Children stand in front of the Guadalupe House of Evangelization near Fowlstown after receiving the sacrament of First Communion at Saint Joseph Church in Bainbridge in this undated photo. Photograph courtesy of Leticia Galvan.
Children stand in front of the Guadalupe House of Evangelization near Fowlstown after receiving the sacrament of First Communion at Saint Joseph Church in Bainbridge in this undated photo. Photograph courtesy of Leticia Galvan.

Bainbridge Hispanic faith community served by Guadalupe House of Evangelization

Originally Appeared in : 9717-8/17/17

Bainbridge--When many people imagine a place of worship, soaring ceilings, tall spires, complex domes and stained glass windows are some of the images that come to mind—not an old, wood-paneled building with five rooms, formerly occupied by migrant farmers. 


But for the 80 or so Hispanic Catholics who gather here once, sometimes twice, weekly to worship and study the Bible, this recently renovated house, located near Fowlstown, Georgia is the cornerstone of their faith community and the main reason why so many locals have been able to receive the sacraments.


“It’s kind of like that story from in the Bible when people threw away that stone,” says Misael Elena, 17, of passages like Psalm 118:22 and Matthew 21:42. As a youth, he helped local families transform the formerly abandoned building into what it is today and now plays guitar in its choir. “And that same stone was the one that was the beginning of the pillar that held the House of God, which I see as that house because some may see it as a house; some may see it as a Church. I see it as that rock that was thrown away but then rebuilt…” 


Established in 2014 by Father D. Arturo Quezada, a Missionary Servant of the Most Holy Trinity (S.T)., the Guadalupe House of Evangelization was envisioned to provide easy access to the Catholic faith for those unable to visit the only diocesan parish in Bainbridge because of issues with transportation, work schedules and most importantly documentation. 


“Bainbridge is the Church, the main Church. This is a project,” says Father Victor Canela, S.T., who oversaw the Guadalupe House after Father Quezada’s departure from Saint Joseph Church in Bainbridge.“We use this house to facilitate to them [our ministry], to keep it easy for them to access to the Church.” 


According to Father Canela, the majority of those who attend the various liturgical offerings of the Guadalupe House—including Mass, bible studies, religious education classes, adoration and confession—are the families of immigrant farmers from Mexico who prepare the copious fields in the area for the growth of crops including tomatoes, cotton and corn. 


As such, opportunities to attend Mass or learn about the faith are limited—especially during periods of harvest—when so many work a 12 or more hour, seven-day workweek.


“The problem is not the time, the problem is the driver’s licenses: They don’t have documents for going to Bainbridge,” Father Canela said. “And sometimes we have a lot of check points and the police stop them, and the police keep them in jail...Many of these things scare them, and they stop going to the Church…” 


The Guadalupe House is much closer—a 10 to 15 minute drive for many families rather than a 20 to 25 minute drive—minimizing the risks. 


She said it’s important because it reunited the church community because they live far away and so they don’t come here [Bainbridge]. When they built it [the Guadalupe House] they started going to that location, Rosario Elena said, with the help of her daughter, who translated her responses into English. 


“She feels more comfortable with them,” her daughter said. Like the Elena family, the majority of the Guadalupe House participants emigrated from Oaxaca, Mexico, where Mass is not celebrated on a weekly basis, according to 26-year-old parishioner Andres Galvan, who translated for his mother Leticia. Leticia is a member of the Missionary Cenacle Apostolate, which is the lay community associated with Father Canela’s religious order.


Leticia explained that the Guadalupe House affects her because she gets to hear the testimonies of those Catholics who have become more involved in their faith after being able to go to Mass and receive the sacraments on a more regular basis. 


“They understand more of the Mass, and they enjoy more of the Mass, and they want to participate more in the Mass,” Father Canela said of parishioners’ reactions.


Beyond easy access, Father Canela emphasized that the ultimate goal of the project, as per its namesake, is to encourage evangelization and empower locals to use their talents to serve the Bainbridge Catholic faith community as lectors, fundraisers, maintenance workers, Eucharistic ministers or religious education teachers. 


“…Many of them only need a little formation to be leaders in the Church,” Father Canela said, referencing Pope Francis’ call for Catholics to be missionary disciples. 


And though much of the pastoral plan for the Guadalupe House has been achieved over the past three to four years, Father Canela said that the his efforts and those of Father Raul Vasquez, S.T., parochial vicar of Saint Joseph Church, are not complete—until the parishioners of the Guadalupe House are integrated into the Saint Joseph community. 


“You are one Church. And your Church is in Bainbridge,” Father Canela said of how he encourages the members of the Guadalupe House to make the transition to Saint Joseph Church. He also noted that the Guadalupe House’s future is uncertain and future pastors may decide, based on lack of resources or time, to close the project. “All sacraments: We celebrate in Bainbridge. They receive here only the preparation.” 


Jessica L. Marsala is assistant editor at the Southern Cross.

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