COLCHESTER, Conn. (AP) – Two years after an explosion reduced their church to rubble, parishioners at St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Colchester gathered Sunday to have their new house of worship blessed.

“I don’t know if I can describe in words,” said Rev. Cyril Manolev, when asked to explain how he felt to finally have his church reopened. Parishioners have spent the past two years attending services at a nearby Roman Catholic church. The bishop of the Ukrainian Diocese of Stamford blessed the new $1.3 million domed church and meeting hall, both inside and out, with holy water before the first Mass,

The original church was destroyed by a suspected gas leak Sept. 10, 2004. Authorities believe the early morning blast was so powerful it knocked over chairs in nearby homes and could be heard for 10 miles.

“It’s fantastic,” said Melanie Kuzna, a parishioner who attended Sunday’s service. “We never thought it would happen so soon.”

“It’s heaven, heaven-sent,” said Luba Maher, who was married at the original church.

A white marble statue of the Virgin Mary was all that was left standing. It originally attracted hundreds of visitors to the site. Many called the statute – located only about 25 feet from the old church – a miracle.

The statue stands now stands in front of the new church. Manolev said visitors continue to be drawn to the statue and pray.

“I think it’s a miracle. How else can you express and explain it,” said Manolev.

To believers, divine intervention also kept anyone from being injured: Manolev, his pregnant wife and their 3-year-old son were sleeping just 50 feet away in the rectory, which received minor damage.

Much of the new church was paid for with insurance money, about $1.1 million. Manolev said the rest came from donations. A gold Ukrainian dome was built in Ohio and brought to Connecticut in pieces, where it was installed atop the church in March.

Manolev said the parish still needs to raise money to put the finishing touches on the church, such as paintings and icons.

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