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The opening procession of the Mass of dedication for the new St. Paul Parish Church in Arcadia was led by Bishop Frank J. Dewane March 21, 2021. (BOB REDDY | FC)

ARCADIA  |  A Church building, dating from the ancient times, has been given the name — the Temple of the Lord. Because of this, a Dedication of a new Parish Church permanently makes the building a Sacred and Holy place where the faithful come to hear the Word of God, to pray together, to celebrate and receive the Sacraments, and to most precisely celebrate the Eucharist at the Table of the Lord.

A Church, as a building, is destined solely and permanently for the gathering of the faithful to give Glory and Praise to God, Bishop Frank J. Dewane stressed when he dedicated the new St. Paul Parish Church during a Mass on March 21, 2021 in Arcadia before a joyous assemblage.

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The new St. Paul Parish Church in Arcadia was dedicated and blessed March 21, 2021. It is a converted supermarket that will eventually include a parish hall, offices and classrooms. (BOB REDDY | FC)

While the Church is a visible building, Bishop Dewane said it is nothing without the faith-filled people of Arcadia. “You are the ‘living stones.’ You are the why we build this Church — to come to gather as a community to adore Christ… It fills my heart with joy to see so many here for this important moment.”

Fittingly, the dedication began in the old church, which lies a short distance to the west of the new worship space and was built more than 50 years ago. Present for the dedication were Father Pablo Ruani, IVE, Administrator of St. Paul Parish, and Father Remigious Ssekiranda, Parochial Vicar. In addition, also present were Father Jose Gonzalez, Dean of the Eastern Deanery and Pastor of St. Catherine Parish in Sebring, as well as several priests who previously served at St. Paul and others serving in the Deanery.

Bishop Dewane began the Rite by proclaiming: “Beloved brothers and sisters, we have gathered with joy to dedicate a new church by celebrating the Lord’s Sacrifice. Let us take part in these sacred rites with loving devotion, listening to the Word of God with faith, so that our community, reborn from the one font of Baptism and nourished at the same table, may grow into a spiritual temple and, brought together at one altar, may advance in the love from on high.”

Led by the cross bearer, the priests and Bishop then processed from the old church to the front doors of the new church. Accompanying the procession were members of the Parish youth group dressed in festive Mexican garb as they led the singing of a chant. Once at the new church, the building was symbolically handed over to the Bishop and he said: “Enter the gates of the Lord with thanksgiving, his courts with songs of praise.” Father Ruani then opened the door.

The next part of the Rite began with the opening process and with Bishop arriving in the sanctuary and blessing of the water. Then he, along with Father Ruani, blessed the people with Holy Water as a symbol of the spiritual Temple of the Lord so as to recall their Baptismal promises. This was followed by the sprinkling of the walls of the Church, marking the Church as a holy place from that day forward — before finally blessing the altar and the sanctuary.

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This 11-foot bronze statue of St. Paul in on the roofline of the new St. Paul Parish Church in Arcadia. (BOB REDDY | FC)

During his homily, Bishop Dewane emphasized the importance behind the new church by citing the Gospel of Matthew (16:13-19), which was proclaimed during the Mass. In Matthew, Jesus questions the disciples about who other people say He is. When their answers were unsatisfactory or seem to fall short, Jesus challenges Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” The Bishop noted that each one of those present is called to answer that question by the life that they live.

“Here in Arcadia, we set about to build this new Church to assist everyone in answering that question,” Bishop Dewane continued. “It is not just for the Fathers to answer it, or for those who are here often… We put up this Church so that no one will have the chance to say: ‘Let someone else enter there.’ Let it be — in this Church of St. Paul — where everyone begins their response to the Lord, the question of ‘Who do you say that I am?’ and they end with their response by carrying the Lord with them throughout their daily life.”

After the homily, as part of the Rite, the Litany of Saints replaced the general intercessions, and was the followed by the placing in the altar a relic of St. Juan Diego.

Bishop Dewane then gave the Prayer of Dedication, which was followed by the anointing, when he spread Sacred Chrism Oil – blessed at the Chrism Mass during Holy Week – first on the altar and then in the sign of the cross at four points on the walls of the Church. This is done to mark, through sacred designation, the altar and Church. Next was the incensation, symbolic of the “prayers rising up to the Lord, not just for today, but for generations to come” of the altar and then of the nave of the Church.

The formal lighting of the altar and the Church began with the Bishop presenting Father Ruani with a lighted candle, who then proceeded to light the candles on the newly anointed altar while the lights of the building were turned on. With the Rite concluded and the altar prepared, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass continued.

Bishop Dewane thanked the many people who worked behind the scenes in getting the new church ready and open and acknowledged the local dignitaries from Arcadia who were present. After the Mass, there was a celebratory reception.

Leticia Flores said she cried during the Mass of Dedication, noting how beautiful the new worship space is and how important this day is for the Parish community. Following the Mass, she stayed with her family in the Church to not only pray but to admire the beautiful worship space. 

“What a wonderful day,” Flores said. “Bishop Dewane has blessed this community with this new church. We are so grateful. Incredible!”

Manuel Rojas has only been at St. Paul for two years, but said he was in shock when he entered the new church and saw its massive size and bright interior.

“Stunning!” Rojas said while examining the altar which is flanked by statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Paul. “You could fit several of our old churches in here. It is the perfect place to pray and worship to Our Lord.”

The new Church addresses the Pastoral needs of the growing and vibrant multicultural community and greatly increases the seating capacity from the existing worship space. The new Church was previously a supermarket and the necessary liturgical and canonical features were included in the redesign. The front façade is in a traditional style that borrows from Spanish Mission Revival archetypes. The central entrance features fusion glass windows with a rose window above the triple arched entrance. On the roofline is a large cross as well as 11-foot-tall bronze statues of St. Paul and St. Peter. Baker Liturgical Arts, LLC of Plantsville, Connecticut, was the contractor; Prime Design Professional was the architect and engineer.

The remaining space at the new location will be improved in the coming years to eventually accommodate the Parish offices, space for religious education instruction, as well as a Parish Hall.

St. Paul Parish has a rich history in Arcadia that dates back to the 1880s. The first permanent priest arrived in 1910 and the first Church was built in 1915. St. Paul was canonically erected as a Parish on July 25, 1958 in the Diocese of St. Augustine which then covered the entire state of Florida. Currently, St. Paul serves more than 3,100 individuals and 600 families.

As necessitated by the Pandemic, the number of people inside the church for the dedication and blessing was limited to ensure appropriate social distancing.