Archive for August, 2009

Romanians Sense Home in Church

August 17th, 2009 admin Comments off

Romanians Sense Home in Church

In a one-story building in Apopka, members can recall memories of the old country.

Sonia Chopra
Special to the Orlando Sentinel

APOPKA — Madelina Wood misses her home, her country and the traditions of Romania.

But for a few hours on Sunday mornings, she says she feels as if she has been transported back there when she attends Sts. Michael and Gabriel Mission, a Romanian Orthodox Church in Apopka.

“It is my home away from home. It feeds my spirit. I go for my God and the prayers said in our language. It feels so good,” said Wood, 29, an office administrative assistant who lives in Orlando.

“And our priest is the real thing.”

That priest is the Rev. Daniel Ghica, 43, who has dedicated his life to spreading the gospel and the existence of Romanians in Central Florida.

Because he speaks English haltingly, Ghica asked his wife, Corina, 40, to translate what the church means to him.

“He likes that he is God’s servant and that he is doing God’s work. He likes to help people,” Corina Ghica said, explaining that her husband is a full-time priest. He was instrumental in building and obtaining a mortgage for the 1,400-square-foot, single-story church and the 2 acres of land adjoining it six years ago.

But the parish has existed since 1994. Its members met in different places through the years.

“Beginnings are always hard, but we had to have a church. We feel it is important. This is who we are. We are born into this religion, and we will die in it,” said Corina Ghica, who works at a Walgreens pharmacy in Orlando. The couple have two children, Natasha, 14, and Vlad, 9.

The money for the building was collected through donations from the Romanian community and from church membership dues, which are $100 annually. Ghica estimated membership at 75, and attendance at Easter and other holy days swells to 250.

Census 2005 community surveys show an estimated 12,797 Romanian-born Floridians, with an estimated 154 in the Orlando metro area, which includes Lake, Orange, Osceola and Seminole.

Church officials estimate at least 450 Romanians in Central Florida and maybe as many as 600. They point out that there is a niche for ethnic religious and cultural institutions.

“I think this community deserves to be known all over Orlando. We want people to learn about our traditions,” said Theodore Bradea, 42, president of the church association. Bradea is self-employed and lives in Orlando with his wife, Vasilica, 44, and their son, George, 19.

“One day God will help build us a bigger church,” Bradea said.

Romania is in southeastern Europe. It borders Hungary and Serbia to the west, Ukraine and Moldova to the northeast and Bulgaria to the south.

According to church officials, (citing the country’s 2002 census) about 87 percent of its citizens are members of the Romanian Orthodox Church.

For many, the church is a place to gather and meet the community.

“I go there because I am Romanian, and it’s a Romanian church,” said Alex Omat, 52, of Orlando. “I enjoy the services.”

Maria Caldureanu, 77, one of the oldest members, says that the culture and heritage have to be passed down and kept alive.

“The church’s altar looks like it does in my country. I like my church. The priest is very kind and speaks softly and gently,” she said.

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