Alluluia means the same in several languages. Whether in Spanish or English, "praise God" sounds the same. And the alleluias rang out on Aug. 11, when St. Finbarr Parish celebrated the one-year anniversary of its Spanish Mass.
St. Finbarr Parish, tucked away in a wooded glade on U.S. 41 East, was founded in 2000 as a mission chapel of the San Marco Catholic Church. Over time it has grown to a place where approximately 1,500 attend weekend Masses in season, and on Dec. 12, 2010, Bishop Frank Dwane elevated it to a parish.
Before St. Finbar began delivering Mass in Spanish, the nearest Catholic Spanish Mass for the folks living at 6L farms, the Habitat for Humanity Trail Ridge neighborhood and nearby communities was St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church on Rattlesnake Hammock Road in East Naples.
The Spanish Mass is a result of a synergistic meeting or as the Rev. Jean-Marie "Fritz" Ligonde, St. Finbarr's parish administrator would say "a Holy Spirit moment."
Ligonde dined with the priests at St. Peter's on Holy Thursday 2011. He mentioned that having a Spanish Mass at St. Finbarr's was something he wanted to do. The Rev. Pedro Roman, St. Peter's parochial vicar, who ministers to St. Peter's thriving Spanish community, had also seen the need and they agreed to join forces. It was only fitting that the idea for the Spanish Mass was conceived on Holy Thursday, as it is the day that Catholics commemorate the institution of Holy Communion, the priesthood and the Mass.
The two parishes worked together, and with the blessing of the diocese, the first Mass was held on Aug. 11, 2011. St. Peter's Spanish Knights of Columbus sponsor the Mass, providing the musicians and the choir. Roman celebrates the Mass and when he is away, Ligonde who speaks Creole, English, French and Spanish presides.
"I like to serve the humble people with a big heart who are looking for God," said Roman. "It is beautiful to see a new community start and grow."
The St. Peter's Spanish Knights of Columbus are enthusiastic about the project. The Church Lady met with them at St. Peter's prior to the event.
"We live to serve other people and we saw the need," said St. Peter Spanish Knights of Columbus member Victor Romero. "The people don't have the resources to go to St. Peters. We are thankful to God to serve our brothers in the community there, thankful to the community at St. Finbarr for opening doors for us and especially for Fr. Fritz for making it all possible."
"Our roots are very important to us and the main part is to try to teach the truth of our religion and educate the people," said Jose Lopez.
"We aren't doing this for us, it's for God and community," added Jose Gomez.
"The Spanish community is growing and it is a beautiful expression of faith," said Rev. Tim Navin, San Marco Catholic Church's pastor. "It's an opportunity to see how diverse we are in Collier County."
The Spanish Mass attracts approximately 200 worshipers. For Easter, attendance swelled to 500. They now average several baptisms and marriages each month and it has become a community place to have those life events.
In addition to the Mass, catechism classes are held for children in English. This year more than 20 children celebrated their first Holy Communion in May.
"The Catholic Church is worldwide and when they come to this country it is important to maintain their culture," said Billy Atwell director of communications, Diocese of Venice in a phone interview.
"The Catholic Church embraces many cultures and languages and it's important to reach out to them," continued Atwell, pointing out that in addition to Spanish and Creole, there is a thriving Polish population within the diocese. "Although we are many languages and cultures, we are one body in Christ, one Church."
The two communities at St. Finbarr often overlap with shared dinners and projects. In July the two Knights of Columbus joined forces to clean up U.S. 41 as part of the Adopt-a-Road project.
The children and youth are an integral part of the Mass. On Saturday night, they were part of the procession, sang in the choir, served at the altar and as lector. St. Peter's Abel Limones led the vibrant music; the small choir was accompanied by piano, guitar and tambourine. Limones looks forward to the day when the youngsters will be able to take over.
The Mass was followed by a celebration dinner. Several of St. Finbarr's Knights of Columbus were there with their wives. Although they couldn't understand the words they appreciated the worship's joy and vivacity and warmth of the people. They also remarked: the food was delicious.
"It's a great celebration," said Dan Bigalke, St. Finbarr's former grand knight. He was especially touched when the children went up during the passing of the peace to be greeted and blessed by the priest.
"Having children present gives more life to the Mass," said St. Finbarr's Mike Marques.