Fr. Garcia the heart and soul of Toronto's Spanish parish

  • June 18, 2010
TORONTO - He’s a pastor with humour, a great heart and an understanding of how to be God’s hand, parishioners say of Toronto’s Fr. Fructuoso Garcia.

Garcia, pastor of St. John the Baptist parish, has been serving Spanish-speaking Catholics in the archdiocese for nearly 40 years.

Since he took over as pastor at St. John the Baptist 16 years ago, Garcia has led the parish out of a $90,000 debt, motivated his community to raise $300,000 for repairs and involved them in painting and beautifying the church with murals and unique inventions like a votive candle delivery system — at the touch of a switch a little stream of water carries a lit tealite a few feet to a tiny pool and a statue of Mary on an “island,” meant to represent Our Lady of Charity, the Virgin of Cuba.

Images and statues throughout the church represent devotions from numerous Latin American countries, including an image of “Señor de los Milagros” (Lord of Miracles) of Peru. Across the choir loft hangs a  wide painting of the last supper, depicting the disciples as men from various Spanish-speaking cultures, with a background that illustrates skylines of Toronto’s downtown and Mississauga’s industries, all encompassed by God’s hands on either side.

“Everything has been made possible only because Fr. Garcia has a very special charisma and wins the love of parishioners so that they feel that this is their parish. So if there is work needed, they do it,” said Peruvian parishioner Juan Lujan Toullier, in Spanish.

The Spain-born priest doesn’t miss a chance to draw a smile or sense of wonder. For example, in writing a personalized message on the inside page of El Arte del Heroismo (The Art of Heroism), one of five inspirational books Garcia has penned for parishioners, the message appeared unreadable.

“Go ahead, look in the mirror,” he said with a chuckle.

In the reflected image was a personalized message, easily readable in Spanish.

“The whole community loves him,” said Toullier, emphasizing that Garcia’s humour makes for some interesting homilies, but his messages are always deep. The books Garcia has written, Toullier said, all “teach that the road to salvation is easy if you always keep God in your heart.”

Garcia provides a moving example by serving the people of his community.

“He gets out of bed in the morning at a run and is always headed to be with the people — in the hospitals, the schools, homes or at the church,” Toullier said.

Garcia has led a social ministry since his arrival at St. John the Baptist. Originally it meant helping new immigrants find work. Now, it means visiting the poor and the sick, assessing their needs and then finding ways to address them.

It also means finding ways for the parish to celebrate together, said Toullier, who helps Garcia with the social ministry. The parish plans to honour Garcia at the end of the Year for Priests on June 26 with music, dance and food — while keeping their fund-raising spirit alive by requesting a $15 donation.

When he first arrived in Toronto nearly 40 years ago, Garcia dedicated his priestly ministry to serving Spanish-speaking immigrants from Spain. He opened a Spanish school for children that lasted about 25 years. His focus quickly shifted to Latin American immigrants, where the need for help was greater.

He created “jornadas de vida cristiana,” missionary groups from his parish that travelled to Cuba, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador to host retreats and help poor parishes by raising money. The most recent contribution was a new roof for a church in Peru.

“Wherever they went, they trained facilitators so they left a lasting group of people that kept working. They left great evangelizing impressions wherever they went,” said Deacon Bert Cambre, director of the diaconate for the archdiocese of Toronto.

Garcia credits his memory as one reason he has been able to raise so much money. One day, he realized he could raise funds by memorizing telephone numbers and displaying his talent in exchange for sponsorship cash. Garcia was able to recite 2,000 telephone numbers from memory during his biggest fund raiser to date. He still visits schools in the archdiocese to display his talent and encourage teachers and students to donate.

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