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Disciples community to staff Woodbridge parish

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After seven years at Queen of Apostles Church in Alexandria, the Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a religious community based in Spain, now will serve at Our Lady of Angels Church in Woodbridge. Bishop Michael F. Burbidge announced the change, effective June 25, citing the community’s desire to serve a larger parish. Queen of Apostles has 4,000 parishioners; Our Lady of Angels has nearly 23,000.

“This new assignment to a larger parish enables the Disciples to increase their service in the Diocese of Arlington and at the same time to enhance their community life with a greater number of priests in their house,” said Bishop Burbidge in a letter to Queen of Apostles.

At Queen of Apostles, the Disciples had a pastor, two parochial vicars and a priest in residence, Father Ignacio de Ribera, the local superior. At Our Lady of Angels, they will have a pastor, three parochial vicars and priest-in-residence Father de Ribera.

Our Lady of Angels previously was served by Father J. Kevin O’Keefe, pastor, and parochial vicars Father Thomas B. Cavanaugh and Father Alexander Diaz. Queen of Apostles is now served by diocesan priests Father Diaz, pastor, and Father Joseph M. Rampino, parochial vicar.

In a letter to parishioners, Father O’Keefe noted that the Disciples priests, who are all bilingual, will better serve the needs of the multicultural parish. “Our Lady of Angels is not demographically the parish it was when it was founded, or what it was when I was a parishioner here a little over 25 years ago. It is currently a little over two-thirds immigrants,” he said. “We have over 60 different nationalities represented, with as many language groups. We have Hispanics from almost every country in Central and South America.

“The unfortunate thing is that many of our diocesan priests do not speak Spanish. I know very little, which does not allow me to be able to fully minister to the needs of the entire parish,” said Father O’Keefe. “We, as a church, need to be effective in our ministry to the whole of the parish. With the Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary taking the administration of the parish, it is an opportunity to minister to the whole of the parish, this U.N. (United Nations) we call Our Lady of Angels.”

The Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary is a religious clerical institute of diocesan right founded in Spain in 1987. Currently, there are 35 members in the order, 22 of whom are priests; the rest are in formation. The Disciples have communities in Denver, Rome, and Madrid and Cuenca, Spain.

Father Juan Espino, former pastor of Queen of Apostles and new parochial vicar of Our Lady of Angels, said he’s enjoyed his time in Alexandria. He was gratified that he and his fellow priests were able to bring the sacraments to many parishioners there. “Our (director of religious education), several years ago, pointed out the fact that many (parents of religious education students) were not married in the church. We revised the registration form and were able to identify the couples who did not have this sacrament. I began to meet with them one by one and began a process of conversion for many families,” he said. “The best part was that these families then became witnesses for others and drew others who were not married in the church to begin the process.”

Since the start of the pandemic, he has enjoyed watching the members of the parish come together to serve one another. “A few parishioners were asked to lead prayers at set times of the day and these were livestreamed. It kept our hope and our joy alive, especially seeing the youth lead the holy rosary,” he said. “I appreciated their creativeness made manifest in so many ways. People who were not working had a desire to serve. Our grounds never looked so beautiful. The more people helped, the more others wanted to help.”

Father Espino and the other priests are excited to share their charism and love of God with a new parish. “Our life and mission is to serve the Lord, showing the beauty and goodness of the truth of the Gospel of marriage and family,” he said. “We have been so blessed to work with parishioners and their families and children at Queen of Apostles, and we look forward to doing the same at Our Lady of Angels.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020