The secret to a strong body and soul may just be found in a healthy smile. Catholic Charities hopes to lift spirits and possibly wipe out some disease by expanding dental benefits to uninsured patients in the northwest corner of Central Florida.

The new Lazarus Free Dental Clinic will have two chairs open one day per week at St. Paul Catholic Community in Leesburg beginning in early 2019. It’s been a long-time goal of Father Gianni Agostinelli, who oversees Lazarus Free Medical Clinic in nearby Wildwood.

“I was sent here to work in this area primarily with the migrants,” explained Father Agostinelli, administrator of the San Pedro de Jesus Maldonado mission. “People have a soul and we have to take care of the whole person and their different needs.” The staff at the medical clinic has tirelessly served thousands of people over the past 10 years, many of them live 200% below the poverty line.

Karen Meza is one of those patients. Without their help, her breast cancer would have gone untreated and her four young children would be orphaned. From the time of her diagnosis to treatment (procured through Lazarus), her cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and metastasized. “Incredibly, this has been the door of my salvation, as if they had opened the gates of heaven,” she said tearfully, recalling her situation. “What is offered at this clinic is not offered anywhere else – compassion, help, love of neighbor, but most of all, they teach you how to have faith.”

The volunteers at Lazarus Free Dental Clinic at St. Paul’s will continue to serve in this tradition of love and charity. Father Agostinelli is grateful for their selflessness. “They’re doing the work of God and the Kingdom of God. Secondly, it gives a missionary dimension to the church and the community—doing something for others. Jesus said, ‘What you do for others, you do for me.’”

The hope is the new dental clinic will bridge the gap between programs. “All the doctors are telling me that 80% of medical problems start in the mouth—bacteria, infection, bad digestion and all that, so this is very important,” shared Father Agostinelli. “It’s not a matter of teeth. It’s a matter of the whole health of the body.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic – October 30, 2018