Priest again leans on faith amid tragedy

(Tampa Bay Times) Three weeks ago, Father Carlos José Rojas stepped up to the pulpit in St. Joseph Catholic Church with a message of hope.

Not to hope would be to despair, he wrote in a text.

Rojas should know. For the second time in a year, he has been asked to take over a church touched by tragedy.

First it was Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in Wimauma, where he replaced Father Demetrio Lorden, who was hit by a car while riding his bike home from church. He was in a coma for a week and is recovering in Spain.

Now Rojas has been selected to take over at St. Joseph, where Father Vladimir Dziadek, 56, hanged himself May 12 after Diocese of St. Petersburg officials confronted him about embezzling $165,000 in church funds that he lost gambling at a local casino.

It took Bishop Robert Lynch, who leads Tampa Bay-area Catholics, just one day to settle on Rojas.

“You need me there?” Rojas, 38, said he asked the bishop. “I’ll go.”

He promptly flushed the system of his 30-foot-long trailer and drove it to the grounds of St. Joseph, where he parked and stowed his kayak underneath.

“It’s a doll house,” he said from a chair inside, his bicycle wedged behind him. He points out a Eucharist with a red lantern next to it, signifying the presence of God and his fishing poles stashed over a table. “It’s so tiny, but it’s all I need.”

When Rojas was tapped for the Wimauma church, parishioners were still grieving, he said, “feeling disoriented and shepherdless.”

Now they are thriving, he said. Rojas’ own father, a retired Air Force colonel, stayed on with the church as a deacon.

Rojas said people everywhere are hungry for the love of a father. [More]


Tampa Bay Times