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Church hopes to buy building to house mission
Father Fabio Sotelo hopes to start a new mission at the former Emmanuel Baptist Church building. St. Michael Catholic Church has signed a contract to buy the building for the new mission. - photo by DEMETRIUS FREEMAN
St. Michael Catholic Church has signed a contract to purchase the current building of Emmanuel Baptist Church as a mission. The $1.3 million contract is contingent upon the church’s ability to raise $300,000 in donations and pledges by the end of April.

Emmanuel Baptist, located at 177 Atlanta Highway, is in a business district that is dominated by businesses owned by or catering to Latino clientele. It backs up to a residential area that is also primarily populated by Hispanics.

The Rev. Fabio Sotelo, pastor of St. Michael, believes the mission would bring the church closer to more potential parishioners.

The congregation has 4,000 families, of which Sotelo estimates 70 percent are Latino.

In the Roman Catholic church, new congregations begin as a mission of an existing church. Once the church becomes self-sufficient, it can become a separate parish. If successful in raising the needed funds, Sotelo said the church could begin holding services in June.

Sotelo said that Archbishop Wilton Gregory is supportive of the mission, which will be named once the purchase is finalized.

"We hope the mission will be a center for the community," Sotelo said. "I would like to see us offer English and citizenship classes. I would even like to have an orientation class for people who are new to Gainesville."

Sotelo said his parish was already reaching out on Atlanta Highway by providing coffee to day laborers waiting in a nearby shopping center.

"I would like one day to invite them (laborers) into the church to know they are welcomed," he said.

He said that St. Michael, located at the intersection of Enota and Pearce Drive, is away from the Latino community.

"I had one woman who told me she spent $70 on taxi fare to come to holy week services," Sotelo said.

Patricia Shivers, a spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta said that in order to see the mission happen, it is up to the members of St. Michael.

"It’s a very long reach," Shivers said. "They are in dire need of this expansion, but they have less than 90 days to raise the money they need."

Sotelo, a Colombian native who has been at St. Michael for two and a half years, has spent most of the past 13 years in churches of the Atlanta Archdiocese. He has three other priests on staff and said that Gregory would likely appoint a priest for the mission.

Gainesville’s Latino population is largely from Mexico, a country where 91 percent of the population identifies as Roman Catholic, according to a census report.

A message left for Emmanuel Baptist Church was not returned.

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