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July 23, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 19

ARTICLES

photo: Sacred Heart, Richmond: Hundreds attended the Sacred Heart Festival in June. The block on which the church and Sacred Heart Center are located was cordoned off.
Sacred Heart, Richmond: Hundreds attended the Sacred Heart Festival in June. The block on which the church and Sacred Heart Center are located was cordoned off.

Hispanic Ministry

Sister Inmaculada Cuesta-Ventura, known better as Sister Inma, is now director of the diocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry. In her previous position as director of Hispanic Catholic Education, she introduced a program of “worship of acculturation” for use in Catholic schools as a way to include and welcome Hispanic students and their families.

She envisions a similar initiative for parishes with common, bilingual worship that provides an opportunity for “a common moment to pray together and begin to get to know one another.”

Sacred Heart, Danville: Musicians at thesSpanish Mass are, from left, Noe Perez, Davids Useche, Felipe Perez and Maria Chavez. (CV FILE PHOTO, JAN. 11, 2010)
Sacred Heart, Danville: Musicians at the Spanish Mass are, from left, Noe Perez, Davids Useche, Felipe Perez and Maria Chavez. (CV FILE PHOTO, JAN. 11, 2010)

While bilingual liturgy is a worthy goal, Sister Inma emphasized it will require a good bit of development and tweaking before it can become an effective regular form of parish worship. Further, she believes the key to cultural integration is “more in the daily relationship among parishioners.”

Although many parishes with sizable Hispanic populations bring the cultures together for Mass and celebration on holidays and special feast days, she said, “I still see a lack of understanding maybe because an occasion is never provided to really get to know each other besides just eating together.”

photo: Sacred Heart, Richmond: Hundreds attended the Sacred Heart Festival in June. The block on which the church and Sacred Heart Center are located was cordoned off. The two dancers at the right pleased the crowd.
Sacred Heart, Richmond: At the Sacred Heart Festival in June two dancers at pleased the crowd.

Sister Inma believes integration of Hispanic communities can be achieved in the diocese’s parishes but she understands, “Change is slow and fear is normal. I see the desire to come together on both sides, and I also see resistance on both sides.

“But this office will work very hard and I have a deep belief that the Holy Spirit will work in each person, and if we are truly catholic — that is, universal — little by little we will become one body in Christ,” she said.

photo: Lynchburg: Hispanic leaders at Holy Cross gather for planning session, with Sr. Inma, standing.
Lynchburg: Hispanic leaders at Holy Cross gather for planning session, with Sr. Inma, standing.

“According to the documents of the Church,” Sister Inma explained, “each ethnic group has the right to hear the Mass in its own language. This is very important even to people who are second to fourth generation in this country, who speak very good English.
“They still prefer to pray in Spanish because this is how they first learned to pray. It is very deep in their spiritual lives.”

Although necessary, some Anglo pastors say their ability to speak the language isn’t enough. Father Thomas Mattingly, who until recently was pastor of Blessed Sacrament in Harrisonburg, speaks Spanish well but said he lacks “the nuances of the language” to convey what he wants to say in his homily.

photo: St. Mary’s, Lovingston: Father Daniel Kelly with Hispanic parishioners before the Sunday Mass in Spanish. (CV FILE PHOTO, APRIL 20, 2009)
St. Mary’s, Lovingston: Father Daniel Kelly with Hispanic parishioners before the Sunday Mass in Spanish. (CV FILE PHOTO, APRIL 20, 2009)

“Even if my Spanish were perfect,” he added, “I still can’t get that cultural piece.”.

Being able to “preach from the culture” is critical. For instance, Father Tim Keeney, pastor at St. Anne’s in Bristol, speaks Spanish, but every other week he calls on Deacon Juan Ibarra to give the homilies in Spanish that resonate with the people.

“It’s got to be applicable to their lives as close as possible,” Deacon Juan said, pointing out that if he’s called on to preach at a Mass in English, “I can’t say the same thing to the Anglo culture — I have to switch gears and give a different homily.”

photo: Sullivan Conference, Richmond: For the first time a separate event was held in Spanish this May in addition to the earlier two-day conference in English.
Sullivan Conference, Richmond: For the first time a separate event was held in Spanish this May in addition to the earlier two-day conference in English.

Father Daniel Kelly suggested that it would be helpful to have more Hispanic priests, and Deacon Juan agreed that Hispanic parishioners, while appreciative of his cultural understanding, “enjoy hearing a priest — not a deacon — preach to them in Spanish.”

Of course, more than preaching is required to adequately serve Hispanic Catholics. Economic circumstances also contribute to the challenges for their faith community.

“It is because there are not many community services available for Hispanics that they come to the church,” explained Father Mattingly, now pastor of St. Olaf in Norge. “The need is so overwhelming.”

He mentioned that the diocese is now providing an additional priest to serve the Harrisonburg parish where about 500 people attend Sunday Spanish Mass.

“This is welcome,” he said, “but we must recognize the added financial burden on the parishes who open their doors to the need.”

He added, “When Hispanics come to our parish, the needs of the parish change, because they don’t just come for Mass.”

photo: Blessed Sacrament, Harrisonburg: Hispanic families gather and greet each other outside the church prior to attending the weekly Mass in Spanish. (CV FILE PHOTO, OCT. 9, 2006
Blessed Sacrament, Harrisonburg: Hispanic families gather and greet each other outside the church prior to attending the weekly Mass in Spanish. (CV FILE PHOTO, OCT. 9, 2006

Blessed Sacrament, where he had been pastor for seven years, has 1,700 registered households. Of its 600 children in Christian formation classes, about half are Hispanic.

Father Mattingly sees the strain on resources as a serious challenge for a large parish. Particularly problematic is providing Christian formation and sacramental preparation, especially among the many immigrant families in which adults don’t have a good command of English.

The number of families requiring instruction in Spanish is too great for staff to handle adequately, and, “it’s a rare volunteer who would want to be in charge of a program that big,” Father Mattingly contended.

“I still see a lack of understanding maybe because an occasion is never provided to really get to know each other besides just eating together.”

Smaller, and mid-size parishes often can handle the need with Hispanic volunteers who speak both languages. Lovingston and St. Joseph in Martinsville are not large parishes, but at least half of their congregations are Hispanic. Both have benefited from having bilingual Hispanic members take leadership roles in their formation ministries.
In Bristol and Marion, Deacon Juan Ibarra has recruited a number of catechists who speak Spanish so children’s formation classes can be offered in both English and Spanish, but that’s not common in other parishes.

Father Mark White, pastor of St. Joseph’s in Martinsville, suggested that integration of the church’s Hispanic community likely will happen over time.

“I think it will take the maturation of another generation, but we’ll see success through the young people currently growing up here who are totally involved in American culture,” he said. “We see it happening now. The one group in the Hispanic community that the Anglo community knows is the teenagers.

“The key is to be patient and try to keep the young people interested and wanting to come to church,” he added.

photo: St. Augustine, Richmond: Above Hispanic ministers at St. Augustine’s are so designated by their “estintivos” they wear during the two liturgies in Spanish each Sunday. (CV FILE PHOTO, NOV. 7, 2005)
St. Augustine, Richmond: Above Hispanic ministers at St. Augustine’s are so designated by their “estintivos” they wear during the two liturgies in Spanish each Sunday. (CV FILE PHOTO, NOV. 7, 2005)

Jim Imbur, youth minister at St. Mary’s in Lovingston, agreed. Most of the teens in his group are Hispanic but speak English as their first language.

“They are caught between two cultures — they are fully part of American culture in school and sports, but home is more traditional. Many have said they like Mass in English, but their parents want to come to Mass in Spanish — and they want to be at Mass with their parents,” he said.

The Christian formation program at St. Mary’s, Lovingston, takes the special needs of its Hispanic community into consideration by “adjusting to reality,” Mr. Imbur explained.

He said he believes the situation will “take its own course” over another generation.

“These kids are wonderful, respectful of adults, and they work hard — and they are asking good questions about their faith,” he said. “There needs to be some patience here.”

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