Appreciating the Blessings of Ministering to Hispanics

Thomas Conway, OFM Around the Province

The essay below was distributed last fall to all HNP friars to recognize and celebrate accomplishments and moments in Hispanic ministry.  The Province’s Hispanic ministry committee welcomes similar reflections.

BEACH HAVEN, N.J. — I went through my initial formation to the Franciscans from 1987 to 1993. I had the opportunity to study Spanish and interact with the Spanish-speaking community.  During that time, that type of ministry never really caught my interest. My three-year struggle with French in high school had convinced me that the study of foreign languages was not my particular gift. From then on, it seemed, my foreign language was destined to be math.

In 2005, I came to Long Beach Island to work in the parish. Allegany Franciscan Sister Pat Klemm was doing the day-to-day work with the Latino community, but the church needed someone to preside at the Masses in Spanish.

Rita Kostopoulos, a retired foreign language teacher in the parish, volunteered to tutor me. Rita’s husband, John, is a retired international banker. Rita was born in Italy and John was born in Greece. These two generous people continue to teach me about language and cross-cultural issues.

With Rita’s guidance and patience, I have steadily added to my repertoire of liturgical things that I can do in Spanish. There are four things that I most like about this particular ministry.

First, this ministry enriches my preaching in English. The harrowing stories of recent immigrants stir my imagination and influence my English homilies. These stories push me toward greater compassion and encourage me to challenge the much more prevalent upper and middle class population on Long Beach Island. The experience has helped me preach about welcoming the poor and thestranger.

Second, I’ve met many people through this ministry that I would not have met otherwise. John and Rita have introduced me to much of the international community of the island. Through this ministry, I have met generous people outside the parish who are doing good things with the Latino community in New Jersey.

Third, this ministry has been extremely challenging. There is always a lot to learn and there is always something new.  Spontaneous conversation before and after Mass is perhaps the most interesting. There are moments when I struggle to say something, and someone figures it out and is able to say it for me. I think that this is good for both of us. If nothing else, it is often very funny.

Fourth, it is remarkable how easy-going the Hispanic community is here. They are grateful for any little thing that we do for them. The people are both patient and forgiving of my Spanish. In my three years of doing this ministry, I cannot recall a single complaint or an unreasonable request.

In summary, I am grateful for the opportunity to do this work here on Long Beach Island. Like many other types of ministry, because of the goodness of the people, we Franciscans get back more than we give.

— Thomas, who is a member of Holy Name’s Provincial Council, lives at St. Francis of Assisi Church Friary in Beach Haven, N.J. Friars or members of HNP partners in ministry are encouraged to contribute a reflection or a news brief that celebrates Hispanic ministry by contacting Christopher Posch, OFM, at St. Paul Friary in Wilmington, Del.