Tampa church volunteers complete renovations after missing money, pastor suicide

TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -- St. Joseph Catholic Church in West Tampa is putting finishing touches on renovations undertaken by parishioners after church funds were raided and a former leader took his own life.

The centerpiece of the renovations is an altar mural by parishioner and painter Aldo Suarez. After more than 20 years of staring at blank walls inside the church, Suarez says his prayers were answered.

"My prayer everyday was saying I want to decorate that, I want to paint like Michelangelo," says Suarez referring to the famed Sistine Chapel while pointing at the walls at St. Joseph, now covered in his colorful representation of biblical passages.

The painter has held exhibitions in Havana and the Florida, but this may be his most important work yet; his contribution to a nearly two-year healing process.

In 2014, News Channel 8 reported on troubled-times at the church. Then-pastor Vladimir Dziadek committed suicide amid an investigation regarding the theft of church funds. The $200,000 was to be used in part for much-needed church repairs and improvements.

Parish priest Fr. David Engbarth tells News Channel 8 parishioners were deeply hurt by the events, but are now optimistic.

"We're in a healing phase, a renewal phase where good things are happening," explains Fr. Engbarth.

Those good things include volunteers landscaping, and painting the church exterior. During the Lent season observed by Catholics, volunteers have gathered on Saturdays to help complete other small handiwork.

"It brings our community together, and it's love," says parishioner Enith Prendes-Dosal

That love is interpreted through art for parishioner Aldo Suarez. His finishing touches for the altar mural years in the making include his interpretation of the 'Great Multitude' passage from the Bible's Book of Revelations. His depiction: a group as diverse as St Joseph Church members praising god after experiencing tribulations.

Suarez reflects on his work, adding, "My painting is not mine now, my painting is now the painting for St. Joseph [the Church community]."

Suarez's altar painting will be unveiled in time for the Palm Sunday observance on March 20th ahead of Easter Sunday.


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