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‘The waiting is over’

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Mater Dei Parish welcomes long-awaited permanent church

CHULA VISTA — For members of Mater Dei Catholic Parish, a long-awaited moment has finally arrived.

Since the parish was established in 2004, the community has gathered for worship in a variety of locations, including parishioners’ homes, a high school cafeteria, two high school gyms and, for the past 13 years, in the parish’s own pastoral center.

But, at long last, Mater Dei Parish has a permanent church building. Bishop Robert W. McElroy dedicated the new church on July 25. Parishioners sat outside the church for the Mass in accordance with California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s current restrictions on places of worship.

“Finally, after 16 years, the waiting is over,” said Elenita Johnston, 65, who has been a parishioner since the start.

She described the new church as a “dream come true” and something for which parishioners had “really sacrificed” over the years.

Sarah Feliciano, 31, told The Southern Cross that parishioners have been united by a “common link,” a shared desire “to be in a home that we can all share together.”

“For that to finally become a reality is a joyous thing for all of us,” said Feliciano, who has been a parishioner for the past 13 years. “I know we’re all overjoyed and excited.”

The new 17,420-square-foot church will seat 1,000 to 1,200 people once COVID-19-related restrictions have been lifted. That is more than double the capacity of the pastoral center, which had been serving as the parish’s worship space.

Founding pastor Father Jovencio “Ven” Ricafort said the new church, which cost about $10.2 million to build, was designed in a “modern” style with an open floor plan.

There are no doors separating the vestibule from the rest of the church, no pillars or partitions to interrupt one’s view from the entrance to the altar.

For parishioner Jeff Jones, this is one of the features that makes the new church “so architecturally interesting.”

“When you walk into the church, it really takes your breath away,” said Jones, 69, adding that the church stands at an elevation that allows for views of Point Loma and the Pacific Ocean.

Jones’ wife, Marilu, told The Southern Cross in early July that she could “hardly wait” to begin attending Mass inside the new church.

“It’s been a long time coming,” the 66-year-old said.

Planning for the new church began in earnest in 2015, as the parish was about to pay off its loans for the parish office and pastoral center that were built in 2007.

Bishop McElroy participated in a groundbreaking ceremony for the new church on March 24, 2019; he was joined by retired Bishop Robert H. Brom, who had established Mater Dei Parish. Construction began the following month and continued through late August 2020.

A combination of factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, inclement weather and construction delays conspired to postpone the church dedication from April 19 to June 7 and, ultimately, to July 25.

Father Ricafort said the design of the church evokes the motherhood of Mary, the parish’s patron saint — “Mater Dei” is Latin for “Mother of God” — and also celebrates “the life journey of the parish.”

The womb of the Blessed Mother is suggested artistically in the sanctuary, by way of a black and gray mosaic that surrounds the crucifix. At the rear of the church, a curvature on the outer wall of the Blessed Sacrament chapel is meant to subtly evoke the profile of a pregnant woman.

An artistic depiction of Mary, with her arms outstretched in a gesture of welcome, can be seen on the exterior of the front door; people representing the various ethnic groups that comprise the parish are seen wrapped in her mantle.

The steel cross, measuring 44 feet high and 21 feet wide, that is affixed to the bell tower is new. But it is a replica of a smaller wooden cross that Father Ricafort made to mark the location of the future church when the site was dedicated in 2004. The new cross serves as a reminder of the parish’s roots and how far it has come.

Norma Spaulding, 74, was there 16 years ago when the original wooden cross was planted and the site blessed. She feels “humbled” to have been a part of the parish’s beginning and is “truly filled with joy to see our permanent church come into completion.”

Spaulding noted that the new church is not solely for present-day parishioners.

“Mater Dei will always be here, for many years to come, for the present and future generations,” she said. “I hope and pray that our parish family and visitors will always have great joy coming and praying at our church.”

For the young adults of the parish, of which there are many, Feliciano said the journey that led to the building of the new church has been a teaching moment.

“To have this come together and to see hard work and sacrifice … manifest into something beautiful and lasting is a message that we’re going to keep with us,” she said.

Kristine Theresa M. Sitson, 27, a Mater Dei parishioner since 2011, echoed those sentiments.

“The journey to our permanent church shows young adults the power of prayer and what love can do. While there were certainly trials and setbacks getting to this point as a parish, it’s not unlike the young adult stage of life, where even though uncertainty and setbacks happen, we have the support of our parish family to make the best of it all.

“Seeing our new church go from an empty lot to the magnificent structure we have today makes us hopeful for our own futures and strive to sustain our faith and parish family life for future generations.”

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