Georgia priest wins Lumen Christi Award

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RAY CITY, Ga. - The construction of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Ray City, scheduled to be dedicated in March, is a dream come true for Catholics in this area of southern Georgia near Valdosta in the Savannah Diocese.

Retired Savannah Bishop J. Kevin Boland said, "What you see happening in Lakeland and in Adel, in Nashville and in Ray City, in all of that part of south Georgia, that's kind of a miracle in the South. The reason why the church there is able to accomplish this - with the help of Catholic Extension, of course, and with the help of others - is the vibrancy of the faith of the Catholic people."

For the past eight years, Father Fredy Angel has been the pastor of St. Anthony of Padua's predecessor parish - Queen of Peace in Lakeland and its missions - which covers three counties. In that role he has been the energetic, tireless and enthusiastic shepherd, teacher, motivator and guiding force behind what one of his parishioners called a "revival" among Catholics there.

"In the Protestant churches here, they talk about revival week," said parishioner Chris Chammoun. "But really with us it's been a revival of eight years. We've been reviving our spirit and bringing in new people who are excited about coming to church."

In the process of that revival, the pastor has also bound a diverse community of African-American, white, Latino and Asian-American Catholics closer together; has planted, grown and nurtured a deeper faith among his parishioners; has motivated and educated children, youth and adults; has earned the respect of the area's larger, non-Catholic community; and now leads the parish in the building of a new church.

Undertaking such an ambitious construction project has instilled pride and great expectations in its members and already is resulting in a more prominent and visible presence of Catholicism in an area where Catholics are only a small minority.

Catholic Extension announced in early October that Father Angel is the recipient of the 2015-16 Lumen Christi Award which will be presented Nov. 8 during a celebration in Ray City. Lumen Christi is Latin for "light of Christ." The award honors an individual or group who demonstrates how the power of faith can transform lives and communities. Recipients are honored not only for the light and hope they bring to forgotten corners of the country, but for inspiring others to be "lights of Christ" as well.

Catholic Extension President Father Jack Wall said, "We are honoring Father Fredy Angel for the inspiration he gives not only to the growing Catholic population in southern Georgia, but to all American Catholics. Father Fredy embodies the service and courage of America's missionary priests who are playing a critical role in building up the fabric of our church and of this nation."

Since its founding in 1905, Chicago-based Catholic Extension has been supporting the work and ministries of U.S. mission dioceses, including outreach to Catholic teens and young adults.

At 41, Father Angel is the second-youngest Lumen Christi recipient, and the youngest priest recipient.

Savannah Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, who nominated him, said from the first time he met him in 2011, "Father Fredy impressed me with his genuineness, his simplicity, his zeal, his enthusiasm, his joy. He seemed to be a man who was really in love with what he was doing."

Eight years ago, when Father Angel became the pastor, Lauren Salazar was only 8 years old. But looking back, she choked up as she remembered, "When Father Fredy first came here, you knew something was going to change. We were so small, and not so many people came to church. But things have changed for the better." She added, "Father Fredy has that aspiration to make us grow, to make our religion stronger, to make our religion help people."

Scherer-Emunds is vice president of content for Catholic Extension.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015