Site Visit: Nicole Toussaint

Nicole Toussaint
September 18th, 2015

When I first found out about the site visit project, I was extremely indecisive with picking a religion and site to go to. It was difficult for me to choose, considering that my family and I are not religious people. I looked up the closest religious sites in my area, the one that caught my eye the most ended up being a Catholic Church building next to a school in the city Coral Gables. The Church was located at 2711 Indian Mound Trail and was called “The Church of the Little Flower.” At first I did some online research to find out more about the Church, it’s history, Holy Days of Obligation , festivities and who I could contact to arrange a visit.
I called a representative from the Church and asked when it would be best for me to visit. I explained that it was to learn about the religion for a project I had at Florida International University. Once I mentioned I was a student the lady was more friendly. The lady I spoke to that Wednesday was named Irma Aguilar. She told me I was able to go in two days later on Friday. She arranged to have someone show me around.
Later on, that Friday I was heading to the Church and was nervous not knowing exactly what to expect. I was told to meet up with the representative in the front of the office to the left of the Church building. The representative was named Maria Chialasti. She was very welcoming. In fact, I later found out she was one of the two assistants for the “pastor.” So I knew I would be in good hands. Added to the fact that she was sweet and willing to answer the different questions I had.
She then walked me over a couple of feet to the Church building next door to the office they called a “Parish office.” It was a tad nerve wrecking as I walked over at first. The building was enormous both from the outside and inside. The Sacred Space was definitely inside. The inside was extremely decorative, and grand. It contained about a hundred brown rows from the back of the building extending to the sides and front of the building. There was an array of large colored windows all around the high circular roof. Also, there was plenty of light and speakers across the church building. It had massive columns at every corner. Especially towards the front of the building. As I walked through the center aisle I noticed the sparkling marble floors. I also noticed a larger cross on a wall on top of the table. To the right was little rooms and to the left there was a stage with another platform. Overall, The building was absolutely breath taking.
Maria then began explaining what everything was and its purpose. I learned a lot of things I had no knowledge of before. Some of the things I learned were that Catholics, have this period of time were they give up something that means a lot to them called “lent.” They also have a “Holy Week.” She told me that every Saturday and Sunday the catholics celebrate their holy days or mass. Maria explained how the masses were there at the Church of the Little Flower. She was able to give me a pamphlet with the specific times so I could participate. The dress code was basically anything that isn’t revealing, I then asked if what I was wearing (jeans and a long top) would be appropriate for the mass as well. Sure enough, it was. I was happy to hear that it was normal clothes, nothing crazy or uncomfortable to wear.
Towards the end of the visit. We were able to sit in another room at the back of the Church, on the second floor so I could ask all the questions I had. I got responses to all of them. The Archdiocese of Miami is a specific Church for the Roman Catholic Church in the United States of America. It has a lot of areas that it covers one of them being here in South Florida. What happened was there was a big boom for religion in the late 1950’s early 60’s and Churches starting being built across Florida. The specific Church I went to was built before in 1926. It was requested to be built by a small group of Catholics in Coral Gables. The Church was known to have assisted in a Civil Defense Program during WWII which I found incredible.

After my meeting with Ms. Chialastri, I was feeling more at ease than I was feeling before. One of my challenges was over with and I had just one more to face. Which in this case was attending the mass that Sunday. What really helped me was the fact that Maria was open with me. She even shared how first got into relgion and being catholic. Her story was interesting and I did not expect for her to share that. Maria’s father was jewish, her mother was not religious at all, yet her grandparents were polar opposites. They were very active Catholics. Went to mass very Sunday, taking Maria as a child to majority of the celebrations.
When Maria was 3 her parents got divorced and it was a rough patch for her and the family. As she grew older she became more distant to her father as he was an alcoholic and suffered financially. Shortly her father fled the country leaving Maria behind. This caused Maria and her mother to move into a new house with her mother and grandparents. Later on Maria ended up switching schools, going to a school nearby in Coral Gables named St.Theresa Catholic School. That’s where her grandparents wanted her to go, and she could ride bike there since it was close to her new home.
In this school, she was forced to attend mass every Friday with her classmates. She would still go every Sunday with her grand parents as well. It was as she grew older, that she realized she wanted to be a devoted catholic. She described it as a “pure feeling” every time she went to mass. She felt she belonged and had a life purpose. Years later, is when she started working at the “Parish Office.” Which was located right next to the Church.
I was in a state of shock and intrigued with her story. I did feel a little bit out of place and awkward. I think I felt this way because my family isn’t religious and to be honest I wasn’t open to this site visit in the beginning. After hearing her story, and experience and how much being catholic meant to her. It opened my eyes a little bit more I must say. As we wrapped up the visit I thanked her for being so open with me and showing me around.
Finally Sunday came around. I had decided to bring my friend Lian with me so I would be more comfortable. We got there a little bit early. What I noticed was a mixture of young families and elders as well. They were all dressed normal. We felt a tad awkward walking through the center as we found are spots with people glancing at us. The people seemed rather stuck up. Once the celebration began a priest walked in with a green and gold robe and a group of people followed holing books, candles and a cross. Throughout the mass people prayed, sang, kneeled at one point, held hands and recited words. I did try to blend in with my friend and copied them a little bit to not be completely the two outcasts. One of the readings came from a book, the message was for people to come together and to forgive one another as God would.
I realized that reading and those books were what they looked to follow in order to be holy and practice their faith. I felt like if the readings and worshiping were both repeating and recovering sacred time. At one point, the priest and people said “They were not worthy enough to receive God.” Which was the white circular bread as the called Eucharist. That showed me that they wanted to be more pure, clean, and faithful. It seemed to really bring the people together.
Here the main sources of authority seem to come from God himself. For Catholics more sources of authority or beliefs can be found in the bible and scriptures. I gather that the scriptures teach , govern and spread Gods messages which makes them also sources of authority. The axis mundi in this religion would be the church itself, that is definitely considered the sacred space. Now, everything outside of the church would be considered the profane. To me inside the church what looked to be more sacred was also the cross at the front of the church above the table. It was at the absolute center in front of the church. That was the direction where everyone was looking.
Some of the master symbols were definitely the cross. Next the gold cup that was raised as Jesus’ blood, as well as Eucharist that represented his body. Anotherfor this religion would be the Christian fish, with the greek letters “ICHTHYS” which mean “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” More master symbols outside of the Church would be the Bishop. For example he is the one all catholic and Christian people follow. Another one is the Pope. Which can also control many Churches, and have a say in everything as well as the power to forgive. It seems to me like everything connected to one another between the readings and master symbols it was similar.All spread good. During the ceremony I noticed that another reading from their Gospel, was similar to the Bible. In my opinion both spread news from God to people to help better themselves. What I also noticed to be similar were the stories being told, because its like the old stories you end up hearing about. For example the stories that have a lesson or myth contained inside. They seem to show others they way, provide you with ways to better yourself, forgive as well as maintain order, provide more knowledge and purify the soul. I believe that’s the purpose it serves.

Over all my experience visiting and attending a mass of the catholic faith was definitely a learning experience. I started dreading it and after everything it was worth it. I learned new things and it was a good experience to step out of my comfort zone. What really stuck to me was the story Maria told me as well as the moments of prayer and silence throughout the actual ceremony. I did feel as if I was “worshiping” when I was copying the people, trying just to fit in. Nothing struck me in a negative way except for the beginning when people were staring at my friend and I. Analyzing us. I am happy I was able to experience this religion and will consider stepping out of my comfort zone a little more now.

One response to “Site Visit: Nicole Toussaint

  1. Good post Nicole, even though it looks more like the final draft of the site visit (which you need to turn in to blackboard). The journal is a short reaction to your first visit. Great interview.


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