About seven years ago, the knocking began. Door to door to door, Father Rodolfo Franco set out on a mission from then-Bishop Reymundo Pena to gather faithful for a new church in Brownsville.
The parish grew as doors opened to Franco, who recruited more and more families whenever someone would listen and welcome him and others inside for Masses. Franco's fledgling parish, the newest in the Diocese of Brownsville, had yet to build a home. In time, they outgrew home Masses and leased space at Burns Elementary all while raising funds for a permanent church.
Then this May, Lord of Divine Mercy finally found its parish home off Alton Gloor in Brownsville. On Saturday, the church, which according to a church member serves 700 to 800 registered families, called upon the rest of the city to help celebrate their blessings and receive a gift -- the sacred relics of Father Pio of Pietrelcina, a Capuchin Catholic priest in Italy who died in 1968 and was venerated as a saint.
"We've been very blessed this year, which is the Year of Faith as declared by Pope Benedict," said Rosario Pena, who chairs the parish's Faithful Messengers fundraising team and shared the story of the parish's beginning. "Our community has been blessed with so much. We have a building, and now we're getting Father Pio's relics."
The Catholic Church has declared Father Pio a saint. While alive, Father Pio reportedly received the stigmata of Christ--wounds on both hands, both feet and the man's back that mirrored wounds suffered by Jesus Christ during his crucifixion as told in the Bible. The Lord of Divine Mercy parish will receive a bloodstained glove and cloth used to cover Pio's wounds, Pena said.
A relic will remain at the church.
Saturday at the Brownsville Sports Park, hundreds gathered in religious celebration and in Mass to praise God for his blessings and to hear testimony of miracles connected with the saint and his relics. Many wanted to see and be near the artifacts.
"It's just a gathering of faithful people who have an urge to get connected with our God again -- and not necessarily just Catholics. We invited all Christians who want to get connected back," Pena said.
According to her, the relics found their home in Brownsville after Father Franco took a trip to Rome this summer and met Fernando F. Sanchez Campos, an ambassador to the Vatican from Costa Rica who says his son and wife were miraculously healed by artifacts of Father Pio.
Sanchez Campos addressed the crowd Saturday, saying Father Pio, through his relics, chose Brownsville and said the saint is miraculous, even today.
The Costa Rican, who lives in Rome, authored the Spanish book, "Nace un Hijo Espiritual: Nuestra Historia con el Padre Pio de Pietrelcina," which tells his family's miracle account but has not been translated to English. Several people sought his autograph Saturday for their copies of his book.
Sanchez Campos believes his wife, Maria del Milagro, and son, Fernando, were healed miraculously about five years ago by relics of Father Pio brought by Father Gabriel Corrales Corrales, also of Costa Rica. Fernando was born one month premature when doctors induced labor after discovering a heart condition in the unborn baby. Mila, as his wife is known, was hospitalized with kidney trouble as doctors struggled to keep baby Fernando alive, Sanchez Campos said.
"It's only now that we understand how bad the situation was. It looked very bad then. Terrible," he said. "They had seven doctors at the birth. Something was wrong."
During the birth and a week afterward, the doctors exhausted several methods to help his son and wife, but again and again left the new father worried about his family. Then one midnight, he received a phone call that Father Gabriel Corrales Corrales was praying over baby Fernando.
"Hearing this, I feared the worst," he said, adding that he rushed to the child.
However, Father Gabriel had brought relics of Father Pio and the baby was healed, Sanchez Campos said. And so was his wife.
Today, 5-year-old Fernando loves to run and play. His father says the child also has a knack for languages, speaking Spanish, Italian and the boy is learning to speak English like his father.
"He loves swimming," the father said. "And he talks about Padre Pio as if he were talking of a friend. That's impressive to me."
Father Gabriel believes the relics have a spiritual importance for Brownsville.
"The importance of the relics is for growing spiritually," he said in Spanish. "Father Pio is a model for many people as far as spiritual growth. He lived in Christ's passion. He made his passion as a way of trusting God. Many people would come to him feeling bad and without hope, but when they heard Father Pio's spiritual development and what he did, they felt hope."
Now, Father Gabriel is asking the saint to intercede on behalf of Brownsville by renewing hope.
Many of the church members felt hope Saturday as services began at 10 a.m. and continued until at least 6 p.m. Pena described the Brownsville community as one of love, faith and many blessings.
"We're celebrating our faith, and everything is falling into place. Had we not had the relics, we probably still would have had this day," Pena said. "So it's a special feeling and we wanted to share it with the city of Brownsville. And we've been inviting everybody in the Diocese of Brownsville. We went church, to church, to church, dropping off invitations. It's a gift from God that we're able to share what we feel and how we feel."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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