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Bringing Christ to Manassas Park

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If you peek into the gym of the Manassas Park Community Center any given Sunday, you can find it brimming with chairs, baby strollers and children singing. The scene is not the beginning of a sporting event but the start of a Mass.

The 9:30 a.m. Spanish Mass is celebrated by priests of All Saints Church in Manassas, the largest parish in the Arlington Diocese. This is the church's third Sunday Mass in Spanish, with two Masses celebrated at the big church in Manassas in the afternoon and evening.

“What is happening in the community of Manassas Park is a spring of blessings,” said Father Juan A. Puigbó, All Saints parochial vicar.

Adding an extra Mass in Manassas Park city, where census data shows that nearly 35 percent of the population is Hispanic, enables people without means of transportation to fulfill their Sunday duty as Catholics.

According to Father Puigbó, the Hispanic community in the area started meeting at the center’s gym for a Christmas Eve Vigil in 2010, and later met during Holy Week. Noticing the immense need, All Saints started offering Sunday Masses consistently two years ago to support a community thirsting to celebrate their Catholic faith.

Morena Rodríguez, who helps to coordinate the Masses, said that having a Catholic service that people can walk to is a blessing. Before that Mass was in place, many Catholics in the area ended up missing Mass or attending other Christian services.

“They were going with our separate brothers, with other groups,” she said in Spanish. “(Once regular Mass started) we had 200 or 250 people, and now we are over 600 people every Sunday. On Easter Sunday, we opened up the whole gym, and we filled it up completely.”

Rodríguez and her husband, Rolando, set up the altar before each Mass and make sure all the lectors and ministers are ready to go before Father Puigbó or Father Jeb Donelan, All Saints parochial vicar, arrive. After Mass, participants stay to stack up chairs and clean up the gym.

“They have a lot of initiative,” she said. “We feel united.”

The community of Catholics keeps growing. Members of a Bible study group go door to door in Manassas Park to invite Hispanics to come to Mass.

Holding his daughter, Ashley, Gabriel Medina said having the chance to go to Mass a block away from his house is more convenient. His wife, Diana Mandujano, who is expecting their second daughter, said that the early time also allows them to spend the afternoon with the family.

Olga Vallejo, parishioner of All Saints, said that she had been looking for an early Mass so she can “offer the first hours of Sunday to the Lord.”

As the community grows, people have formed youth groups, ministries and an evangelizing group that meets for more than two hours every Friday to deepen the faith of the participants and their families. Father Puigbó said the community is overjoyed because everybody is finding their place in ministry. At the end of one homily, Father Puigbó emphasized that being “living stone” and fulfilling the mission that every disciple of Jesus is given, goes beyond participating in a pastoral ministry but having Christ influence the very marrow of our lives.

“What´s important is the fertile terrain of our life that is starting to bear fruit,” Father Puigbó said. “The glory is His, and our lives are to serve Him.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2014