Serving the Catholic community in Doral
By: María Alejandra Pulgar
September 1st will mark the 20th anniversary of the designation as parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Doral.
What started off as the Doral Mission from Blessed Trinity Parish in Miami Springs in 1999, with a small group of Catholic faithful meeting every Sunday morning for mass at John I. Smith Elementary, has been growing steadily over the years, achieving an astounding amount of 11,271 registered families to this date, what makes it one of the largest parishes in the Archdiocese of Miami.
Rev. Joseph Carney, Blessed Trinity pastor at the time, celebrated the first mass for the mission the last Sunday of August ‘99, with 49 faithful in attendance. The voice spread and the group grew each passing week, in parallel with the growth of population in the Doral area. Deacon Ray Ortega, was designated first Deacon of the mission. In September 2001 the Most Rev. Archbishop John Clement Favalora instituted the Doral Mission into the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish at Doral, appointing Rev. Monsignor Tomás Marín as its First Pastor, who faithfully served the community until 2010 when His Excellency Archbishop Thomas Wenski designated Rev. Israel Mago as Administrator and later Pastor of Guadalupe.
“The pastors went to the schools to rent spaces in the weekends; that was very challenging” recalls Archbishop Wenski, adding that “Before you can build ‘a church’, you have to build up ‘the Church’; that was Msgr. Marin’s task and also Fr. Mago’s task”.
Masses were held at different school cafeterias in the area over the years. Parishioners kept coming by the hundreds; children and adults registered for religious education; requests for sacraments and the need for parish ministries multiplied. There was only missing having a place to call home. That dream came true with the consecration of the parish temple on Our Lady’s feast day December 12th, 2015.
“It was a great accomplishment,” says Archbishop Wenski, who celebrated the consecration mass. “The parish grew because of it as well. Our Lady of Guadalupe is proof of that saying ‘If you build it they will come’. Once it was built, the number of people that came and still come to worship there has grown exponentially. That is very gratifying to me and to the priests that work there”.
A bilingual Thanksgiving Mass for the 20th anniversary is planned to take place at the Parish Temple on Saturday, September 4th, 2021 at 8:30 pm, officiated by His Excellency Archbishop Wenski. An International Food Festival is tentatively planned for the last weekend of August and a later in the year a Gala to celebrate this very special milestone. More details on the events will be published on the parish website www.guadalupedoral.org or in the parish bulletin.
An office team and an army of volunteers
Operating and maintaining the parish and caring for the many needs of people in the flock is not easy task. Father Mago counts with the assistance of Parochial Vicar Fr. Elkin Sierra, a staff of dedicated employees and an army of volunteers who serve the community with love and dedication on a daily basis.
Among the team that assist Fr. Mago and Fr. Sierra at the office and parish activities are: Miguel Ruiz, Zully Mar Vidal, Magaly Hamm, Deacon Billy Bertot, Deacon Manuel Jimenez, Edward Herrera, Adriana Spitale, Fransheska Villasmil, and Seminarian Andrew Vitrano-Farinato. On Saturdays, beloved Fr. Pedro Suarez, S.J. and other priests offer the sacrament of Reconciliation.
There are also the parishioners that serve on the Pastoral and Finance Councils, including: Barbara Romani (first appointed Lay Minister of the parish), Dina Mitjans, Andrea Salani, Chris Brady, Juan Carlos Bermudez, Carlos Fernandez, and Gilbert Solorzano.
Many names and organizations come to mind to appreciate when celebrating this milestone for the parish. All volunteers in charge of the different ministries that serve the population: parking, security, temple ushers, altar servers, sacristans, lectors, Eucharistic ministers; Saint Vincent the Paul, Don Bosco, Rachel’s Vineyard; Catechists, with a special mention given to the Embi family, Abraham, and Diana, who started the religious education program in the parish; These just to name a few of the 30+ ministries and 20+ groups that make Guadalupe the welcoming, vibrant parish it is today.
“My grace is sufficient for you”
The Parish office is pretty busy daily. An estimate of 23,400 people visited the office in 2019. In person attendance numbers were reduced during 2020 due to the pandemic, but online masses reached 1.3 million people and the Live Perpetual Adoration YouTube page had over 1 million visits. At any given time there are hundreds of people from all over the world watching and sending prayers and petitions. Online donations and weekly offerings did not stop coming, which was fundamental for the maintenance of the building and operation of the parish.
Both Fr. Marin and Fr. Mago confronted challenging situations with faith and perseverance during the construction of the parish temple. Like the many times when, celebrating mass at a school, they were told they could not use a facility the following weekend. They had to “run to find another place big enough for the whole community” says Fr. Mago. “But in the end I realize that it had to be like that, that the right moment would arrive and we would have what we have now; I realized that the Word of the Lord is fulfilled: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’, ‘For when I am weak, then I am strong’. In those moments, right there, I really could verify those words. Because once you become a pastor, everything is your business, your responsibility, and most of the things people don’t even know about, because they only see the results, for better or for worse.”
“There is a whole logistic that has to be coordinated” including parking volunteers, ushers, sacristans, lectors, Eucharistic ministers, “It is an army of servers that are necessary for all of this to work smoothly […] that everyone who comes feels the love and presence of God from the moment he arrives until he leaves. That they do not go home upset because there was chaos or disorder. Fortunately, here it is not the case very often.” People definitely go home happy and comforted. And they keep coming back.
What a joy when they were told they were going to Guadalupe
Both Father Mago and Father Sierra rejoiced when they received their assignments to Guadalupe.
Fr. Sierra remembers being so happy he almost hugged the Archbishop when he read his assignment letter. “I am so excited to be here at so many levels”. He prayed to be assigned to a Marian parish “and here I am at Guadalupe! […] Now we have the 20th anniversary, what a joyful moment for all of us here! […]This is an important milestone that brings joy for everyone involved with this parish”.
He also has words of appreciation for Fr. Mago: “He has made ministry for me so much more enjoyable. I have learned a lot from Fr. Israel, he has guided me and has been very patient and encouraging in my ministry. And of the people of Guadalupe, when they come here from Doral or out of the area they fall in love with the atmosphere, it is so welcoming, so vibrant and so happy.”
Father Mago served as Deacon in Doral under Msgr. Marín until his ordination in 2007 and is deeply grateful for that opportunity that changed his life for the best. “Working with Msgr. Marín was a school. A pastor, a brilliant man, he was a mentor to me. I will always be grateful to him that he accepted that I came here. Had he not accepted receiving seminarian Israel Mago here as Deacon, maybe my story would have been different. We must begin to thank Msgr. Marín for his yes. I will always appreciate it. Everything I learned it was watching him leading the parish.”
“Everything that has happened has been directed by the hand of God” says Fr. Mago, recalling he had already received a designation to go to another parish in 2010 when, after months of prayers, a series of changes in the Archdiocese lead to his assignment as administrator to Guadalupe. “I realized the power of prayer, I could feel right there the hand of the Virgin and of the Lord.”
Our Lady’s mosaic: The best billboard
“It is one of the biggest churches in the Archdiocese right now,” says Archbishop Wenski about the parish temple. Its location near the Turnpike and Expressway make it very accessible and convenient for celebrations of the Archdiocese. “Also that beautiful mosaic of Our Lady, thousands of people drive by it every day, so that mosaic is a beautiful billboard if you will, of the presence of the church there.”
There are countless testimonies of people who have visited Guadalupe after seeing the mosaic from the Turnpike, and that visit has changed their lives. People come to worship here not only from Doral but from all over Miami and visitors from other places. The temple even has an entry as a “must see place” on TripAdvisor.
“The one who does everything, who makes everything happen and attracts the people to come back, is Our Lady of Guadalupe, the owner of the house, the Mother of us all,” says Fr. Mago. “She is the one who, when one enters the temple, and sees her there, at the altar, welcoming us, she touches our hearts, makes us want to return, and moves us to tears of joy and hope. She inspires all those feelings inside us.”
Father Mago has still many projects he wants to accomplish in the parish, including an additional building and an expansion of the parking lot, but the most important thing for him is that Guadalupe continues being “a point of reference for everyone who comes here”, a place people can count on for help and support. ”That we are recognized for that, is a great blessing. I feel more than blessed and happy to be able to be that bridge, to offer assistance to all who come, who have just arrived and want to make a new life in this city.”
Archbishop Wenski considers that Guadalupe “is like an oasis for pilgrim people. As Christians, we know our true homeland is not here but in God’s Kingdom and we are pilgrims just passing through. Too often this world seems like a desert because of the harshness of conditions for many, many people. A church like Guadalupe could really be like an oasis in this desert, where people can come and get refreshed, get restored, find the strength to continue their journey, their pilgrimage towards the Heavenly Kingdom”.
To celebrate this special anniversary, His Excellency advises that “we should do 3 things: remember the past with gratitude, celebrate the present with enthusiasm and look to the future with hope”.
May this parish continue being a beacon of light for all those who seek solace under the loving gaze of Our Lady of Guadalupe at her parish home.