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Miami's Haitian Community Dedicates New Church

MIAMI (CBSMiami) --  The first church built by South Florida's Haitian community was celebrated Saturday with a dedication mass.

With words of prayer, Archbishop Thomas Wenski handed a key to the priest of Notre Dame D'Haiti. As bishops and parishioners applauded, the doors opened to a church packed with people.  The crowds spilled onto the lawn outside the church.

"We are here. The day has come, and God has given what he has promised," said Jean Souffrant, events coordinator for the church.

"Notre Dame D'Haiti is my heart," said Father Reginald Jean-Mary.  "It's the heart of the Haitian community really.  It's a place where all of us find meaning in our lives."

For years the church met in a converted cafeteria,  but  over time the place where so many people found, meaning,  comfort,  and fellowship became too small to accommodate everyone who wanted to worship .

Funding for the new $5 million church began eight years ago. Out of the $5 million, $3.2 million has been donated by Haitian parishioners and community members.

"We started collecting pennies," explained Souffrant.  "To see people giving out of food stamps, out of social security, a young boy giving me 60 cents and saying 'Father, please buy a block and build a church,"  added Jean-Mary.

The Archdiocese of Miami helped out with a loan of $1.5 million, which will be paid back through donations from parishioners and donors.

The new building will seat 1,200 people in the church and 166 people in the chapel, about double the capacity of the old building.

The dedication was a service of celebration. For Archbishop Wenski, it held personal significance. "I was here for 18 years.  I was the parish priest of the Haitian community here in South Florida,  so for me this also a day of great joy and happiness," he told CBS4's Maggie Newland.

"It's been a beautiful journey to get here today and I'm grateful for all those who have helped," said Souffrant.

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