Father Fredy Angel, a native of Bogotá, Colombia, serves as pastor of Queen of Peace Parish in Lakeland and of the parish’s mission in nearby Ray City. In the Diocese of Savannah in southern Georgia, only 3 percent of the population is Catholic. When he began his term as pastor in 2008, there was only a small group of parishioners attending Mass. Today Sunday Masses in the Lakeland church draw so many area Catholics that the congregation is spilling out of the church and into the street. Originally founded to serve a small population of African-American Catholics, the parish today is racially diverse and serves whites, African-Americans and the growing Hispanic population in the area.
Despite many difficulties early on in his pastoral appointment—Father Fredy had to travel more than 150 miles each week to celebrate up to eight Masses in four different locations, and he had to live in a run-down rectory—he persevered and has poured his heart and soul into turning this previously struggling small Catholic parish into a thriving, dynamic and growing multi-ethnic community. He has established religious education programs that draw both children and adults to the parish. Many Catholics who had previously stopped attending church have come back to worship, not only because of his outreach and dedication to the community, but also because of his charismatic personality and passion for his ministry. He has also earned the respect and admiration of many Protestants in the two towns, who see him as a leader of their community.
Today there are 100 children enrolled in the religious education classes. In the seven and a half years of being their pastor, Father Fredy has celebrated 32 marriages. In the 19 years prior to his time there, only 19 were celebrated. He has brought 154 people to celebrate their first Communion, when in the past 29 years, a total of only 140 people did so. His flock continues to grow, and with Father Fredy as their shepherd, it is easy to see why.
He has led his parish by example, always the first to pick up a mop to clean the buildings or lend a hand in washing the dishes. His congregation has seen how he cares for the sick. They have seen how he has bridged the long-standing gap between English- and Spanish-speaking parishioners. They have seen how he has hosted potlucks after Mass. They have seen how he has worked outside of the church walls to help them with daily struggles such as family problems, counseling needs, social services and the many challenges the area’s young people are facing. This kind of devotion has brought more life back to the church, as well as people.
As the parish has continued to grow, Father Fredy has had to realize that a new and larger church needed to be built. He is now leading and involving his congregation in building that new church in a centralized location—within 20 minutes of driving for any of the parishioners from the three towns it will serve. The new parish, to be named St. Anthony of Padua, is scheduled to be dedicated in early 2016 and will have enough space for every religious education class to have a single classroom, rather than the current situation of combining groups in one classroom, or being forced to use the kitchen as a substitute classroom. In addition, it will include soccer fields and the parish also owns a property across the street where Father Fredy hopes to one day build a parish school.
Father Fredy is a priest in the Pope Francis mold, a shepherd who, in the pope’s memorable expression, is “living with the smell of his sheep.” His perseverance, commitment to his community, his leadership in bridging the various ethnic communities, and his close collaboration with Bishop Gregory Hartmayer to build a sustainable new church for the parish are just a few of the ways he is bringing the “light of Christ” to the people in the Diocese of Savannah, Georgia.