Hispanic Ministry’s Blessings, Struggles Shared at Interprovincial Retreat

Jocelyn Thomas Friar News

The group

Friars from across the country gathered in California to discuss Hispanic ministry in the United States. (Photo courtesy of Jacek Orzechowski, shown at left)

DANVILLE, Calif. — For the third time in the last three consecutive years, friars from across the country gathered to share ideas, to support each other and to learn about how to strengthen their ministry to the Hispanic community. Nineteen members of six Franciscan provinces participated in the interprovincial retreat called “Together as Brothers” or “Juntos Como Hermanos.”

Representing Holy Name Province at the Oct. 12 to 15 gathering at San Damiano Retreat were Stephen DeWitt, OFM, chair of the HNP Hispanic Ministry Committee, Edgardo Jara, OFM, Erick López, OFM, Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, and Gonzalo Torres, OFM.

The retreat, held during National Hispanic Heritage Month, provided an opportunity for friars to discuss four models for revitalizing and restructuring Franciscan life in the United States in relationship to friars involved with Hispanic ministry. Also, Fr. Eduardo Fernandez, SJ, a pastoral theologian and an expert in Hispanic ministry in the U.S., led a discussion about the challenges and opportunities presented by Hispanic ministry.

“It was an important time for those who work in Hispanic ministry because we had the opportunity to share the blessings and struggles of our ministries as Friars Minor,” said Edgardo. “To learn from other friars and also to support each other is important and part of our way of life as Franciscans. The meeting was very productive because we agree on very important points. It was not only one friar speaking up, or one province; we spoke on behalf of many friars who work very hard in Hispanic ministry in the USA. Everything is possible when we are together.” 

The friars from all six provinces agreed that profound demographic shifts and social changes are taking place in the Catholic Church in the U.S. due to the huge influx of Latinos, said Jacek, chair of the HNP Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Directorate. “Given that so many of our immigrant Latino brothers and sisters are economically poor and disadvantaged, the friars also emphasized that  Franciscans in the U.S. must not turn their backs on them but rather minister among them.”

Jacek, who is stationed at the large multicultural St. Camillus Parish in Maryland, said his participation in the “Juntos Como Hermanos” retreat made him more acutely aware of the critical importance of having serious conversations about the present and future role of Hispanic ministry among the Franciscans in the United States.

“Pope Francis warns us against the perils of being ‘self-referential,’ and failing to consider the signs of the times,” Jacek said. “As our provinces explore different options for restructuring and reconfiguring our entities, we must ensure that this interprovincial dialogue takes into consideration the profound demographic shifts taking place in the Catholic Church in the U.S.” He added that he was surprised to hear comments from many friars who felt that the Hispanic ministry was not considered a priority in their provinces. The friars wrote a letter to the Franciscan Interprovincial Team and to their respective provincial councils emphasizing the importance of reaching out to Spanish-speaking Catholics  and offered specific suggestions about ways to revitalize Franciscan life and ministry in an increasingly multicultural context.

The retreat is one of several collaborative events being held by the OFM provinces of the United State. In August, more than 70 friars took part in a brothers convocation. In January, the annual interprovincial retreat is being held in New Mexico.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.

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