Coffee and Conversation with Edgardo Lalo Jara

Stephen Mangione Friar News

TRIANGLE, Va. – When he had to create a catchy title, and one that captured the essence of his weekly Spanish-language internet show – which is live-streamed every Wednesday at 4 p.m. on social media platforms – the first thing that came to mind for Edgardo Lalo Jara, OFM, was making a connection to his Costa Rica culture.

Edgardo Jara, (Photo from the Provincial archives)

“I wanted the title to be warm and inviting – and, like the show itself, informal and comfortable,” said Lalo. “Normally, I drink coffee at three or four o’clock every afternoon. It’s a very Costa Rican cultural thing to do. Everything stops in Costa Rica in the middle of the afternoon for coffee – and if you drop by someone’s house, they might offer you a little something to eat with the coffee – empanadas or homemade bread.”

It didn’t take long for him to craft the perfect name for his faith-nourishing show built around coffee, comfort, and conversation – “Cafeteando Con El P. Lalo,” Spanish for “Coffee With Fr. Lalo,” which has been live-streaming weekly since the first week of June 2020.

That Lalo is live-streaming his own show – from creating content and graphics to handling all technical production – is nothing short of remarkable. Before the pandemic, social media ministry wasn’t even a blip on his radar – mainly because Lalo, by his own admission, had no knowledge of technology. However, when the coronavirus forced parishes across the country, including St. Camillus in Silver Spring, Maryland, to shut down in-person worship and ministries, that changed everything.

“The pandemic reality forced me to learn how to use social media and create an online presence. It became a necessity if I wanted to communicate with the congregation. I think it forced the whole Church to use social media, something that we as Catholics are not very good at. That’s one positive that emerged from the pandemic,” said Lalo, who was stationed at St. Camillus from 2015 to August 2020 before moving to his new assignment at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in northern Virginia last September.

Strong Bond with Our Lady
Lalo had been live-streaming the Rosary in Spanish on his Facebook page as a way to keep the Latin community connected at the Silver Spring parish. At the end of April, the office of cultural diversity and outreach of the Archdiocese of Washington – which covers Washington, D.C. and five counties in Maryland, and which Lalo had been working closely in Hispanic ministry – asked him to lead a daily Rosary in Spanish for the broader D.C.-Maryland faithful during the entire month of May, a month in the liturgical calendar dedicated to the veneration of the Blessed Mother.

“For Latinos, the relationship with the Virgin Mary is very strong. St. Camillus parishioners and those throughout the archdiocese not only appreciated that they could pray the Rosary every day, but that they could do it in their own language. This became very important to them, especially during the pandemic, to stay connected to their faith and culture,” said Lalo, noting that some participants sent him flowers to place by the statue of Mary that was on a table during the live-stream. “Someone even sent a tablecloth to place beneath the statue.”

Lalo’s virtual Rosary gained a following that spread coast-to-coast. But the disappointment that came when he announced it would conclude on the last day of May, led to the birth of Cafeteando Con El P. Lalo. He saw the weekly, one-hour live-streaming show as an opportunity to address a shortcoming of the Church’s service to the Latin faithful.

“I have always felt that while good at administering the sacraments to the Hispanic community, the Church doesn’t spend enough time with that community instructing and catechizing. I have always been concerned that there is not enough of a formation effort, which sometimes chases Hispanics, especially immigrant populations, to other Christian traditions for answers. There is a lot of misdirection out there, and hopefully, I am playing a role to change that,” said Lalo, who is fluent in English and Spanish, and also speaks some French.

Letting Friends, Family into Your Home
“Cafeteando Con El P. Lalo is like friends and family coming to my house, and me coming into their homes, drinking coffee and sharing camaraderie – and, most of all, we are having a conversation with God, talking about our faith and learning from each other. I respond in plain and straightforward language to their questions about faith, and I try to show them how to live a Christian life in the realities of their everyday life,” said Lalo, who receives questions from his viewers in advance on Facebook messenger, YouTube, and a dedicated phone number.

“I don’t choose the topics or talk about what I want. The people drive the subject matter and conversation through the questions they submit. I am just a facilitator. I want the content of this show to be a useful resource for living their faith,” said Lalo, who shares links to all recorded shows in WhatsApp. “Their questions help me grow in knowledge and in my own ministry – and when people respond and ask questions, it means they are getting something from the show – and that gives me great satisfaction.”

The beginning was a learning process, admits Lalo, who watched instructional videos to learn how to use software (“that’s the most difficult part,” he said) and various technical aspects of producing a show on the internet – such as connecting a webcam to a computer, positioning the camera, producing videos, and designing the screen to make the landscape appealing and interesting.

“There were a lot of mistakes, but that was part of learning how to incorporate technology and interesting video content and photos to make it look professional. There is no one in another room or sitting off-camera managing or producing the show,” explained Lalo, who not only hosts and produces but manages all technical aspects, including the occasional difficulty with an internet connection.

More than eight months after launching the show, 800 to 900 people – and sometimes as many as 1,100 – watch it on his Facebook page and YouTube channel. His audience expands beyond parish boundaries, attracting viewers from across the U.S., as well as Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and, of course, Costa Rica.

“This is how you create relationships. People get to know you, and you get to know them, even though we are having coffee virtually from a distance,” said Lalo, whose wooden rocking chair, handcrafted in Costa Rica, is as much a fixture on the show as his coffee mug – and who spends many hours in the rocker responding to hundreds of messages and emails. “That’s a wonderful part of the ministry, especially Franciscan ministry – listening to people and paying attention so they don’t feel ignored”

An image from Lalo’s recently-launched website

Evangelizing Via Social Media
“Lalo brings a vibrant energy and strong faith commitment to all that he does,” said John O’Connor, OFM, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Triangle. “Despite COVID restrictions, Lalo has already made a significant impact on the Hispanic community at St. Francis. I can only imagine what he will do and what it will be like when we get beyond this pandemic.”

John added, “I have no doubt that his talents will be very effective in bringing the Gospel message to many in the Hispanic community who are otherwise not being reached. Lalo is an excellent example of what it means to effectively use social media as part of the new evangelization that is so badly needed in the Church.”

Word has spread among the growing Hispanic population at St. Francis and in the broader Triangle community that the parish has a Latino friar for the first time in its history. Lalo was asked by a local radio station to participate in two Hispanic language weekend programs.

Lalo expanded his outreach to Hispanic immigrants and to the broader Latin community when he launched his all-Spanish language website called Cafeteando con el Padre Lalo – De mi casa a tu casa. on Dec. 30 – also called Cafeteando Con P. Lalo – whose modern and fresh design is divided into five easy-to-navigate sections: cantar (sing), leer (read), orar (pray), peregrinaje (pilgrimage), and ver (watch). The sections collectively feature dozens of links to Christian Catholic content – including articles, scripture, music, daily reflections, videos, workshops, Bible study, prayers, and meditations.

“During my 10 years ministering to the Hispanic immigrant community, I was often asked to recommend Christian Catholic websites, singers, and other sources. Many times, people just don’t know where to look or if something is Catholic,” explained Lalo, who created the website to serve as a comprehensive resource of faith and spirituality for Hispanic immigrants.

No Sugar, No Milk, Just Coffee
“The Hispanic community can be confident in knowing that this website is based on Catholic tradition. The website is like a combo meal – the burger, fries, and soft drink – that you get at a fast-food restaurant. You can find everything on the website menu – from more than 20 Christian Catholic musicians from Argentina, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic, to articles and talks by bishops and theologians. You don’t have to go anywhere else,” added Lalo, who noted that new content is added on a daily basis to keep it fresh and that all donations go toward the maintenance of the website.

In addition to his weekly internet show, website, and pastoral responsibilities at the Triangle parish, where he directs Hispanic ministry, Lalo is studying remotely for his doctorate in theology at Fordham University and continues to serve as a consultant to Hispanic ministries for the Washington and Baltimore archdioceses.

For the record, Lalo prefers a strong and robust dark roast – no sugar, no milk, no cream. “Anything you add to coffee changes the flavor,” said Lalo, who worked as a banker and high school teacher, and spent several years with a Franciscan province in Mexico, before joining Holy Name Province in 2012. He professed his solemn vows in 2016 and was ordained to the priesthood in 2017.

“Since becoming a friar, I love to drink a cup of coffee while looking out a window at nature’s beauty, or when I am on vacation or at a retreat,” Lalo said. “That moment of drinking coffee and connecting with nature is as if I am having coffee with God. It is a special moment, drinking coffee in the silence, in the presence of my Creator.”

— Stephen Mangione is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.