Missionary priest in Georgia honored with Lumen

CHICAGO  – Father Fredy Angel, a dynamic Colombian-born missionary priest is the recipient of Catholic Extension’s 2015-2016 Lumen Christi Award.
Father Angel 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.
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.”
“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.
The Diocese of Jackson had two connections to the award process this year. The Redemptorist community serving in the Delta represented this diocese as a nominee. While the Guadalupan Missionary Sisters of the Holy Spirit serving in Birmingham, Ala., do not serve here, several members of their community do so they had lots of support during the nomination and voting process.