The people at the parish of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Jamaica are making sure that their church not only thrives on a strong spiritual foundation, but also on a physically sound one.
The price of securing the safety of worshipers and passer byers on Parsons Boulevard came with a tag of $1.8 million. The bell tower, over a century old, was succumbing to its age, crumbling at its very foundation.
“It was about to collapse,” said pastor Father Manuel Rodriguez. “The Generations of Faith came as a blessing. It motivated the people.”
When the diocese announced the fundraising campaign that splits funds equally between a specified parish need and diocesan initiatives to care for elderly priests and youth evangelization, Father Rodriguez said the parish immediately knew how it would use its portion. The bell tower desperately needed costly repairs. There was no way around it; demolishing it would be even more costly.
Because the Generations of Faith campaign has not yet been completed, the parish needed a loan to begin work. The diocese helped arrange one.
After two years of work, parishioners, priests and diocesan leadership came together to celebrate and bless the newly restored church tower.
“You have undergone a tremendous effort to have that tower stand as a beacon of faith in the neighborhood,” said Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros, just before he blessed the tower.
Father Thomas Pettei, episcopal vicar for Queens, echoed the bishop’s words as he prepared to cut the ceremonial ribbon. He commended the people for their faithful dedication to the parish.
The parishioners’ dedication was evident Nov. 19 as they celebrated their new bell tower and parish feast day. They kept their commitment of spreading joy with their neighborhood through a street procession despite severe winds bringing an uncomfortable chill.
Huddled together, parishioners faithfully started with a multilingual Rosary. Then they generated warmth by joyfully dancing along to the live music performed on the float behind them.
After the procession and blessing, parishioners filled the church for the English-Spanish multi-lingual Mass. The congregation was made up in large part by families with young children.
At the end of the eucharistic celebration, Father Rodriguez called forth all those who invited the word of God into their home in the past month by participating in the ARISE program.
Dozens of people came up for the blessing; in all, Father Rodriguez said, there were about 200 participants. The pastor said the program is gaining traction in the parish because people are willing to express their faith.
Securing an Inheritance
José Pangolo, who came to the celebration with his family, said he is very thankful to God for the many blessing He has bestowed on the family. Therefore he wants to care for God’s home.
“This place is very special,” he said in Spanish. “It’s like a home to us.”
Speaking of the newly restored bell tower, he said: “This is the inheritance we leave our children. We will bring them here and after we are gone they will continue to come here and bring their own children.”
Paule Girard, who has been a parishioner at Presentation for 37 years, said the parish church is where she seeks refuge. It is here that she comes before the tabernacle to bring her secrets and her sorrows. She says Jesus listens and unburdens in ways mortal friends cannot.
She hopes the bells also soon will be restored so that their sound can resonate through the streets inviting all to come and take solace in the church.
Father Rodriguez said a computerized system still has to be put in place for the bells, which have been silent for half a century, to ring once again.
After Mass, the pastor invited all to a celebration in the parish hall featuring a Mariachi band and a full dinner. During the festivity, the elders of the church were invited to speak and share their experience of the many years they had spent at Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“The first thing that rings in my ears is thankfulness,” said Jimmy Bligh, a parishioner for over 40 years. His words were translated into Spanish so all could understand. “The parish is beautiful because the people are beautiful.”