Friars in Latino Ministry Hold Overnight Gathering

Christopher Posch, OFM In the Headlines

This report is about an event organized by the Province’s Hispanic Ministry Committee, of which Christopher Posch, OFM, is chair. Information about the committee can be found on its blog, “Encuentro Franciscano.”

SILVER SPRING, Md. — Eighteen friars gathered at Holy Name College on June 16 and 17 to celebrate the blessings of the Hispanic presence and reflect on the ministry and its future. Also, an earlier “lite” gathering with three friars took place May 21 in New York at Holy Name of Jesus Friary. We are most grateful to our hosts Francis DiSpigno, OFM, Daniel Kenna, OFM, and the welcoming fraternities at Holy Name College here and Holy Name Friary.

Friar participants at the June event included John C. Coughlin, OFM, Todd Carpenter, OFM, Thomas Conway, OFM, Michael Johnson, OFM, Erick Lopez, OFM, Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, Juan de la Cruz Turcios, OFM,Michael Tyson, OFM, Jud Weiksnar, OFM, and Edgardo Zea Laura, OFM.

In one session, friars reported their experiences at local sites. Christopher VanHaight, OFM, used his recent learning of Spanish to develop a new Hispanic ministry at St. Bonaventure Church in Paterson, N.J. In fact, there are more children at Spanish Mass than at all Sunday English Masses combined. Even though pastor Daniel Grigassy, OFM, is not fluent, he has been very supportive in planning and the ministry of presence: welcoming and embracing his Hispanic flock, and chatting in English with the young ones and greeting the others with a warm “Buenos Dias!” Dan is scheduled to celebrate Mass in Spanish for the first time this month. Mucha suerte, Danielito!

Thomas noted that Latinos often feel more comfortable coming to the friars for baptisms, because parish registration is not mandatory, as is required by some diocesan parishes.

Sharing Practices and Goals
Daniel McLellan, OFM
, described Immaculate Conception in Durham, N.C., as one parish consistently discovering where bridges can be built. He has learned to preside in Spanish and enjoys the ministry of presence, stating, “This is what I can give, and I give it.” William McIntyre, OFM, and Steven Patti, OFM, offer formation, counseling, and crisis response ministries in Spanish.

Brian Belanger, OFM, and the Siena College administration are interested in getting more Hispanic students on campus. Recently, when a visiting priest from Colombia offered the traditional Siena “Blessing of the Brains” before final exams, several Hispanic students spontaneously gathered afterwards with the Colombian priest and spoke at length. Brian acknowledged that he has not seen these students at Mass and recognizes the power of a presence of a Latino minister to encourage a feeling of community.

Similarly, Mario Gomez, OFM, as an intern last summer, served as magnet at Paterson to establish a new ministry. Brian is interested in further exploring this technique. Gonzalo Torres, OFM, offered a Siena visitation saying, “Aqui estoy.” Brian also reported that Dennis Tamburello, OFM, regularly celebrates Spanish Mass at a local prison.

After a summer immersion program in Cochabamba, Bolivia last year, Stephen Dewitt, OFM, requested a yearlong internship in Bolivia and Peru, which is starting this month.

In a guided conversation facilitated by Fr. Allan Deck, SJ, executive director of the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, we recognized that 60 percent of Catholics in the United States under age 35 are Hispanic. 

As Hispanic immigrants and their children become accustomed to life here, they move in the direction of secular American culture. Lawrence Hayes, OFM, illustrated this reality, reflecting on Langley Park jóvenes: The 18- to 35-year-old laborers — brought up in Guatemala — know, express and live their faith in concrete forms. The teenagers born and raised here are not very motivated by faith and seem to have embraced individualism, materialism and secularism. Most friars have experienced the same phenomenon.

Celebrating Cultural Differences
These facts underscored the reality that, in order to effectively minister to and with Hispanics, one has to discover ways to evangelize the American cultures. Also, Hispanic ministry can no longer be considered only ministry with the poor — it is also ministry with the young. The Hispanic presence is not a threat — it’s a gift.

We also reflected on cultural discernment, consisting of being sensitive to the values, images, and memories of where God is at work. Allan also underscored the vitality of affectivity in Latino cultures. Often popular movements such as Cursillo and the charismatic renewal respond to the needs for faith expression in emotional ways.

Tom said, “The process of welcoming Latinos has to be more deliberate, conscious, and strategic than a parallel welcoming process with Anglos. It struck me that Latinos, for good reason, are more tuned in to, more sensitive to, verbal and non-verbal welcoming signals.”

latino-r In a concluding conversation, we discussed possible input to the upcoming Provincial Chapter and regional days. We also considered some best practices such as:
· The Kerygma retreats offered at Langley Park/St. Camillus
· The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd offered at Durham, a Montessori approach that utilizes parables, 
story-telling, ritual, symbols, and props in transmitting the faith, captivating children, parents, and catechists
· The pastor’s welcoming presence at Spanish Mass and events, even if he is not fluent in Spanish, as is done
at the parishes in Paterson and Durham
· Storytelling within the Hispanic communities as well as between Hispanic and mainstream communities 
(“border crossings”) to facilitate the discovery and preservation of historical and spiritual memory and build 
bridges between diverse parishioners
· Offering scholarships to Hispanic children to attend Catholic school

In addition, we challenged one another to look at secularity with sympathy and find where God is in it.

We encouraged one another to effectively utilize the lives of the saints, holy water, blessed sacrament, and other symbols and sacramentals. One evangelical minister who chaplains NASCAR drivers and was unable to bless a racecar with holy water said, “You Catholic priests don’t know what you have in those sacraments!”

— Fr. Christopher, who lives in Wilmington, Del., is director of Hispanic Ministry in the 
Diocese of Wilmington. He is shown in the photo above with Erick Lopez, OFM, and Juan Turcios, OFM.