Camillus House honors seven churches for committed effort
By Derek Joy
The ceremony was a re-sounding thank you from Camillus House to seven local churches for their committed efforts.
It was an event coordinated by Attorney Crystal Conner, secretary for Camillus House Board of Directors. Appropriately, the theme was: “Camillus House Celebrates Black Culture – Recognizing The Role Of Church In Transmitting Black Culture.”
According to Dr. Paul R. Ahr, president and CEO, this was the fourth such annual event for Camillus House, the first in its eight month old facility in Overtown – 1603 N. W. Seventh Ave. The previous three were focused on music, women and Overtown.
Ahr said this new facility – Norwegian Cruise Lines Cam-pus of Camillus House – was constructed at a cost of $80, a combination of $40-million in private fundraising and $40-million from government.
“It’s important to our organization to reach out to the community and celebrate our accomplishments as a community,” Connor said. “Ninety percent of our clients are Black.
“We want to celebrate to embrace, support and celebrate the entire diaspora of Black culture here. A lot of Black churches throughout the community support us. We’re honoring these seven because of their commitment to our goals and values.”
Father Richard L. Marquess-Barry of St. Agnes Episcopal Church; Re. Dr. Ralph Ross of Historic Mt. Zion Baptist Church; Father John Cox of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church; and Rev. Dr. George E. McRae of Mt. Tabor M.B. Church.
Also, Elder Vincent Jennings of United House of Prayer for All People; Rev. Eddie Lake of Greater Bethel AME Church; and Brother Luc Joliecoer of Brothers of the Good Shepherd.
“When Christ ascended into Heaven, he left you – the ministers of his Gospel – to carry on his ministry,” said Ahr.
Camillus House was founded in 1960 by Brothers of the Good Shepherd, a Roman Catholic Order. Its mission was to help relieve suffering of the hungry, homeless and lost ones among society.
Furthering that mission has not always been easy. Getting this new facility gain zoning approval, financing and constructed was not an easy task.
There have been constant cries from various Homeowners and Business Associations against Camillus House locating in their neighborhoods. They faced a constant battle.
Now, including the new facility, Camillus House is the saving grace for 856 people in 14 locations throughout Miami Dade County. It is where residents find salvation on their road to getting housing, food, medical treatment, counseling, job training and substance abuse rehabilitation programs.
“I want to thank Camillus House for recognizing the work the Black church has done in helping keep us free,” said Marquess Barry.
“The history of the Black church is important because it reminds us that even though we may look different, worship God differently, we’re all one in the body of Christ.”
Ross, the first Black to reach the rank of Captain in the U.S. Navy Chaplain’s Corps, offered to correct a misperception in the history of local Black churches.
Greater Bethel AME Church is referred to as the first Black church in Miami because it was the first to be incorporated, “ Ross said.
“Our church was founded before the city of Miami was incorporated in 1896. “Blacks felt the need to establish a place they could worship. Mt. Zion was founded. Greater Bethel incorporated first. That’s the difference.”
Interestingly enough, Camillus House is currently exploring the possibility of not only considering ownership of a grocery store that could also be used for training purposes, it is also considering purchasing the land next to its newest facility.
“The land we’re sitting on is leased,” Ahr told the audience, while noting St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church closed in 2004.
“The land next door is being offered for sale. If we can buy it that could be a place for St. Francis Xavier Church. That means they can never remove a Roman Catholic Church from Overtown.”
McRae, who pastors Mt. Tabor M.B. Church in Liberty City, where more than 300 recovering substance abuse addicts have greatly benefited from the church and its rehabilitation program, considered the experience.
“I thank God for the experience I’ve gained to know what God can do. If we’re going to do what God wants us to do, we have to love one another.” McRae said.
Said Conner: “The impact of this event on the entire community is that the community can come and see our new facility. We welcome the community and hope people will be encouraged to give back.”