SOURCE: Catholic Extension

Catholic Extension

October 05, 2015 12:00 ET

Missionary Priest Inspires Catholic 'Revival' in the Deep South

Father Fredy Angel to Receive Catholic Extension's Highest Honor for His Efforts in Uniting a Diverse Community

CHICAGO, IL--(Marketwired - October 05, 2015) - Father Fredy Angel, a dynamic Colombian-born missionary priest, has transformed a previously dispersed and struggling Catholic community in rural southern Georgia into a vibrant and growing parish of African American, Caucasian, Latino and Asian American Catholics. These different groups have come together into one family, one "body of Christ" and are setting an example for the larger community. To accommodate and further spur its growth, the recently renamed St. Anthony of Padua Parish, under Father Angel's leadership, has embarked on the ambitious construction of a large new church outside Ray City in the Diocese of Savannah, Georgia. Scheduled for dedication in March 2016, the new church, much of it being built with volunteer labor, has already instilled new pride among the area's dedicated Catholics and resulted in a more prominent and visible Catholic presence in an area where they are only a small minority.

In recognition of his tireless and faith-filled leadership and exemplary missionary discipleship and for bringing the "light of Christ" to the people he serves, Father Angel is the recipient of Catholic Extension's 2015-2016 Lumen Christi Award.

Bishop Gregory Hartmayer of Savannah, who nominated Father Angel for the award, said, "Father Fredy was named properly in having been given the family name 'Angel,' because he is an 'angel,' a messenger of God to the people he serves. He brings them hope, joy and the presence of Christ in the sacraments, so he is truly a light of Christ."

Bishop Hartmayer was in the gathering of the U.S. bishops Pope Francis addressed on Sept. 23 during his visit to Washington, DC. "Toward the end of the pope's address," the bishop remembered, "he spoke to us about both the challenge and the enriching gift of diversity. 'Do not be afraid to welcome people,' the pope said. 'Offer them the warmth of the love of Christ, and you will unlock the mystery of their heart.' I think that is precisely what Father Fredy has done in bringing together the many diverse people that make up his wonderful parish."

For the past eight years Father Angel has been the pastor of St. Anthony of Padua's predecessor parish -- Queen of Peace in Lakeland and its missions -- which covers a large geographical area spanning initially four and today three counties. He has built strong bonds between the different ethnic groups and has poured all his energy into creating a vibrant, diverse "community united in faith."

"Here in southern Georgia, a lot of people have that division," said parishioner Ana Beltrán. "The Latinos hang out more with the Latinos, and the Anglos with the Anglos, and the African Americans with the African Americans. But once we come through that church door, we are one, we are family, just one Catholic community."

At Queen of Peace -- now St. Anthony of Padua -- Father Angel has been the energetic, tireless and enthusiastic shepherd, teacher, motivator and guiding force behind what another parishioner called a "revival" among Catholics there.

"It's been a 'revival' of eight years," said Chris Chammoun. "We've been reviving our spirit and bringing in new people who are excited about coming to Church. Father Fredy was really the driving force. Since he's been leading us on this new journey, we've seen a lot of growth. Sunday Mass here is overflowing. People have to sit outside, which can be rough in the 100-degree weather. But people still do it and sweat because they want to be here for Mass."

The Diocese of Savannah's Bishop Emeritus Kevin Boland has called the community's transformation a "miracle in the South." He said, "The reason why the Church there is able to accomplish this -- with the help of Catholic Extension and others -- is the vibrancy of the faith of the Catholic people."

Father Angel is a missionary pastor in the Pope Francis mold, a charismatic and compassionate shepherd who, in the pope's memorable expression, is "living with the smell of his sheep." At 41 years young, he is the second youngest of the so-far 38 recipients of the Lumen Christi Award and the youngest priest recipient.

"Pope Francis has called us all to be missionary disciples, bonding our heart, soul and life to Christ," said Catholic Extension President Father Jack Wall. "Father Fredy embodies Catholic Extension's mission to build up Catholic faith communities in what Pope Francis has called the 'peripheries' of the United States. The transformation and growth that has taken place in rural Georgia is truly an example of what can happen when people join together to build strong communities of faith even in places where resources are scarce."

Catholic Extension has been supporting Father Angel's ministry since he arrived from Bogotá, Colombia to become a seminarian for the Savannah diocese in 2001. He was a beneficiary of the organization's support for the diocese's seminarian education. Catholic Extension has also helped pay for his ministry at Queen of Peace with salary subsidies, and just this summer the organization approved a $50,000 1-to-1 matching challenge for the construction of St. Anthony of Padua Church.

Father Fredy will be honored during a community celebration at Camp Tygart in Ray City on Nov. 8. The event will begin with a 10 a.m. Mass with Bishop Hartmayer, followed by a reception.

For more information on Catholic Extension, the Lumen Christi Award and Father Angel, please visit www.catholicextension.org.

Editor's Note: High-res photos and video, including b-roll, of Father Angel and his parish are available by request to lisa@lg-pr.com.

About Catholic Extension: Catholic Extension is a papal society that makes visible the power of faith in America's most marginalized communities by strategically investing in people, infrastructure and ministries. Since its founding in 1905, Catholic Extension has distributed more than $1.2 billion in today's dollars to provide funding and resources to dioceses and parishes that cannot support themselves. For more information visit www.catholicextension.org; follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/catholicextension or twitter at @CathExtension.

About the Lumen Christi Award: Each year, Catholic Extension's Lumen Christi Award honors an individual or group working in one of America's mission dioceses who demonstrates how the power of faith can transform lives and communities. Lumen Christi recipients are laudable not only for the light and hope they bring to forgotten corners of the country, but for inspiring those around them to be "Lights of Christ" as well. Past recipients of the Lumen Christi Award, which is Latin for "Light of Christ," have included priests, women religious and lay leaders from across the nation. The award is accompanied by a $50,000 grant -- $25,000 for the honoree and $25,000 for the nominating diocese -- to be used for enhancing a specific area of ministry. For more information visit www.catholicextension.org/lumen-christi-award.

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