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THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
Hispanic Churches Meet For Prayers
By Cristina Elías | Sentinel Staff Writer
June 4, 2003
KISSIMMEE -- Showing off their growing numbers, 52 local Hispanic Christian pastors and about 500 members of their congregations met to pray for Kissimmee's well-being.
The Friday event, which was sponsored by The Rock Community Churches and the Kissimmee Chapter of the Association of Hispanic Christian Churches of Central Florida, is the first such gathering in Kissimmee, and organizers hope to make it an annual tradition.
"We have an impressive number of churches for such a small city," said Raúl Andino of the Centro Cristiano Tabernáculo de la Unción, the church association's chapter president. "And we want to pray for the politicians, for the commerce and specially for the business sector of this city."
The collective prayer -- called A Night of Crying Out to God, or Noche de Clamor in Spanish -- is a religious and political tradition in Puerto Rico that serves as both spiritual revival for church members and a political stage for Puerto Rican churches. It's a tradition organizers want to transplant to Kissimmee.
"In Puerto Rico, they do that every year," said José Hoyos, former secretary of the Osceola County Republican Party and a member of The Rock Community Churches. "They invite the politicians and government officials to pray for them and for all Puerto Rico."
And now the churches pray for Kissimmee and Osceola, where its Kissimmee chapter incorporated three years ago.
The churches could pray for Orlando, where the association's home base and president, Luis López of the church Príncipe de Paz, are located, say members. But it is Kissimmee that matters most to the association because it holds the lion's share of the membership of about 200-plus churches throughout Central Florida.
"We really don't deal with Orlando government," said Pablo López, a pastor of the church Prínce of Paz. "Even though our church is in Orlando, most of the people come from Kissimmee."
The event, which featured vendors, music, dancers and revival-style orations, attracted Colombians, Venezuelan and Peruvians from Orlando, Kissimmee and Poinciana .
"I think [Hispanic] Christian churches have not made themselves heard," said Rodney Cruz, a Puerto Rican living in Poinciana who attended with his family. "But actually, I think that as time goes on we are going to weigh in on politics."
The gathering was at the old Fortune Park Retail Center on U.S. Highway 192. The building was purchased in September for $4.3 million by a Queens, N.Y., ministry, The Rock Community Churches, under Faith Church International.
Word had gotten around that a church had just bought the 118,178-square-foot building, said Lydia Withrow, a Puerto Rican pastor of The Rock Churches.
Withrow had come from New York to find a building for her new ministry and suddenly she was putting on a clamor.
"It was for pastors and for churches," said Withrow, who plans to rent out the venue, which accommodates 3,500 people, to pastors and other community organizations. "How could I say no?"