Janna Reynolds, The Catholic Virginian
After nearly a decade of serving the Diocese of Richmond in various capacities, Comboni Missionary Sister Inma Cuesta, director of the Office of Ethnic Ministries, will relocate to Rome to work for the General Administration of her congregation in September.
Sister Inma became a consultant for the Office of Hispanic Ministry in 2009. From 2009-2010, she was involved in designing the training for Spanish- speaking catechists and creating the curriculum for parish leader formation in Spanish.
She designed the Segura Educational Initiative for Children, a program created to provide quality Catholic education to Latin American families in the Diocese of Richmond.
“I was the one who reached out to include the Latino families to join the Catholic schools, and I followed up with this project,” Sister Inma said.
In 2011, Sister Inma was hired by the diocese as the director of Hispanic Catholic education.
“When I started, I did all the religious education in Spanish plus the Segura Initiative for Children,” she said.
With her team, Sister Inma designed the curriculum for the Missionary Discipleship Ministry certification program for parish leaders that is offered through the University of Dayton, one of the courses of which is interculturality.
As she worked with the Hispanic Ministry, Sister Inma realized the need for all the ethnic ministries in the diocese to be more visible.
In 2019, she organized the Office of Ethnic Ministries to include the Hispanic, Asian and Native American ministries and the Office for Black Catholics.
Sister Inma explained that the office was designed to be a space for different ethnic ministries to learn about each other and to provide an opportunity for other people of the diocese to learn about and engage in cultural competence.
“I think that this is the key role of the Office of Ethnic Ministries. It’s to create an encounter of the different cultures that are part of our diocese,” she said.
Sister Inma said that the Office of Ethnic Ministries has brought more interculturality to the diocese, meaning the different ethnic ministries are communicating and mingling with each other more, rather than interacting with only their own group.
“And the thing is, we are afraid of the person who is diverse form us. And instead, now, for example, during this COVID-19, we are learning that we are not so diverse,” she said. “All of us, we are vulnerable at the same level. Rich, poor. People from Latin America, people from Africa, people from Asia. So all of us, we are the same. So this vulnerability is our common background.”
According to Sister Inma, the Office of Ethnic Ministries has aimed to host events where members of the different ethnic communities can learn about one another. The events are not exclusive to only the Hispanic, Asian, Native American or Black Catholic communities. They are open to everyone so all members of the diocese have the opportunity to engage in the culture of encounter and interculturality.
“I think the beauty of working in the Office of Ethnic Ministries is to learn from different cultures and to have the possibility to meet and to know different people from different cultures and just to discover how the same situation can be approached in many different ways. There is not just one way,” she said.
Model for parishes
According to Sister Inma, the Office of Ethnic Ministries was meant to be a model for parishes to build the space of encounter.
“It is also how we can form more as a body, as a Church, the body of the Church. So it’s how we can work together despite the barrier of our language. How we can interact among ourselves in new ways in parish community projects. That is what the Office of Ethnic Ministries tries to encourage people to do at the parish level,” she explained.
Sister Inma also noted that the space of encounter has been an opportunity for all the different ethnic ministries to realize that there is a give and take of their own way of doing things in order to “give more space to others.”
“I think that is a big challenge, and sometimes it is needed to mediate and to help parishes and pastors understand this. It’s growing, but it’s still something that we need to grow more,” she said.
Sister Inma said that the Office of Ethnic Ministries is in its beginning stages, so her successor has a solid foundation upon which to build and expand its mission.
“One of my wishes is how we can help the pastoral ministry of Spanish to be more seminated in the different offices of the Pastoral Center,” she said, explaining that more bilingual staff would be a great help in many of the offices that interact with different ethnic groups.
‘Breaking down barriers’
In addition to the programs she was instrumental in establishing for the diocese, Sister Inma is grateful that she was able to bring people of diverse backgrounds together by helping “break down the barriers of the fear (of the other)” and to empower people.
She said she is ready for the new experiences and challenges Rome will bring.
“I think it’s a privilege, and I think it’s an opportunity also,” she said. “And so a new chapter will be open in my life, and I will learn also from that experience.”
Although Sister Inma had her initial formation in Italy, she said returning there for work will be different.
“I think it will be a new world for me, especially working on a macro level for the entire congregation, and we are dispersed in 23 countries. So it will not be just the reality of Rome, but it will be the reality of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America. It’s different,” she said.
Sister Inma said that the time she has served in the Diocese of Richmond has been a blessing because it allowed her to grow as a person, a professional and as a religious woman.
“I learned a lot in the way of doing things and how to integrate those ways into my personal life and all these things into the mission of the Church in certain ways,” she said.
Sister Inma said what she will miss most about the Diocese of Richmond is being in touch with people from the different ethnic ministries and helping them to grow and feel empowered.
“That is something I think that I brought to the diocese,” she said.
In a recent conversation with members of the Filipino community in which Sister Inma told them she thought they were ready to organize themselves, one person thanked her for empowering them and believing in them.
“And that is something that is nice, to encourage others that they can do it. We will provide you the tools, but I believe that you can do it. And that is important. I think that has been the thing I learned the most, to believe in other people, in their potential,” she said.