Members of the Immaculate Conception Parish youth ministry posed for this photo at the entrance of Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois, where the week-long national leadership symposium was held.

A Laudato Si’ Parish in Durham Invests in Future Caretakers of Creation

HNP Communications HNPNow

A Franciscan parish in North Carolina is empowering young adult Hispanic parishioners to become leaders in the Church for social justice and care for creation and our common home.

Jacek Orzechowski, OFM

A group of Latino teenagers and young adults from Immaculate Conception Church recently participated in a week-long national leadership symposium in Romeoville, Illinois, where they joined their peers from around the country to share life experiences, learn more about Catholic Social Teachings, and put their faith into action through charity and justice opportunities with local organizations, according to Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, pastor of the Durham parish, which has a large Hispanic population.

Immaculate Conception has a long history of vibrant ministry in Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, says Jacek, “due largely to the prophetic vision” of his predecessors – particularly David McBriar, OFM, the first Franciscan pastor at the Durham church.

“About 20 years ago, David, along with the leaders of two other faith communities in Durham, asked a national community organizing network, known as the Industrial Areas Foundation, to help them establish a broad-based interfaith organization to address issues like social justice,” said Jacek, who served as animator of the JPIC Animation Committee of the Order of Friars Minor in Rome. “Their effort – David’s effort – continues all these years later as we work toward systemic change in our city and community.”

One of the most diverse Franciscan parishes of Holy Name Province, Immaculate Conception has taken to heart revitalization of the Franciscan values of caring for all creation. As part of adopting the Laudato Si’ Action Platform of Pope Francis’ encyclical, the parish’s JPIC ministry is providing support and collaborating with the youth ministry, according to Kenneth Chiha.

“As a Laudato Si’ parish, JPIC’s nurturing and support of our youth shows them that everything we do is interconnected – our spirituality, the human condition, and care for creation. We are investing in our young adults to take ownership of their faith as a way of life, so that they, hopefully, become leaders of our community and parish,” said Kenneth, who has served since March 2022 as director of the parish JPIC ministry, one of the most dynamic in the United States.

Members of the Durham parish’s youth group got to visit some of the sights when they visited Chicago in a week-long trip led by full-time youth ministry director Mariza Mandujano-Ortiz (4th from left).

“I am excited about the tremendous potential and untapped power of our youth – especially of our Latino community – as transformative agents in our parish, Church and society. They are putting Laudato Si’ into action! This alignment with the youth program is an example of how JPIC works effectively with other community and parish groups,” added Kenneth.

Central to this empowerment effort among the parish’s young Latino population is Mariza Mandujano-Ortiz, the full-time director of the youth program whose passion and vitality has motivated the teens and young adults to enthusiastically embrace a deep commitment and involvement to parish life, mission of the Church, and Franciscan values – especially in the area of justice and care for creation.

Mariza led more than a dozen members of the youth ministry to the recent National Symposium on Leadership for a Comprehensive Pastoral Juvenil – a program developed by the Instituto Fe y Vida (Institute for Faith and Life) to help the new generation of Catholic Latino leaders analyze the realities of Hispanic young people in the U.S. through the lens of the Gospel and Catholic Social Teachings. It was the second consecutive year the Durham parish organized and funded (with the assistance of the JPIC ministry) a large contingent of Latino youth to take advantage of one of the most renowned youth leadership formation programs in the country. Their life-sharing encounters and faith-in-action was part of the symposium’s Engaging Stories Program.

“After experiencing the Engaging Stories Program, our young people were more eager to participate in parish life and work together on common goals. The week-long symposium was transformative for our teens,” said Mariza. “They met peers from other states and learned about realities different than their own. The small-group dialogue, presentations, role-play skits, and direct service at five local organizations helped our young people discover the gifts and talents that they have to offer the Church and their parish community.”

“Mariza’s charism, energy and leadership, and her relational and organizational skills, have been crucial to developing a strong collaborative bond between our parish youth and JPIC ministries, and with the Institute of Faith and Life. And that translates into the enthusiastic response of our young Latino population and, really, all associated with the parish youth ministry,” said Jacek.

A visiting friar was encouraged by the high energy level of the parish youth and their interest and openness to caring for their common home. “When I first came to the parish, I was invited to speak to the Hispanic youth,” said Carlos Portillo, OFM, a friar in formation who lives at the St. Joseph Interprovincial Post-Novitiate in Chicago, Illinois, and who is spending the summer in Durham as part of an internship ministry. “I reflected with them on how we all can do small things in our daily lives – make changes in our own lives to help change the world. Our actions preach the Gospel for us. People will follow when they see us caring for creation, each other, and the environment.” 

Families at a youth group meeting at Immaculate Conception Church in Durham.

Another emerging parish leader has been Mateo Pedro Ignacio, who immigrated to Durham a few years ago from Guatemala and has been very involved with the collaborative efforts between the youth ministry and Institute. Mateo was chosen to serve as one of the co-leaders of the Institute’s summer program that consists of a cohort of 65 youth from around the country.

“At first, I felt apprehensive. I knew there would be many challenges, but I still said ‘yes.’ It was a transformative experience for everyone involved. I have been touched by Christ’s healing presence and l learned about creative ways of empowering young people to get more involved in the life and mission of their parishes,” said Mateo.

Added Jacek, “As we are in the process of becoming a new unified Franciscan province, Immaculate Conception Parish is doubling down on engaging our Latino youth in justice, peace, and care for creation – and in developing future leaders and building bridges. That gives me so much hope. I truly believe that the best is yet to come.”

Immaculate Conception Parish was recently invited by the Institute for Faith and Life to participate in its Thriving Catholic Parishes Program. For a more detailed look at Immaculate Conception’s vast JPIC initiatives, visit