PATERSON, N.J. — The community of St. Bonaventure Church here celebrated its first Mass in Spanish earlier this month, a liturgy that will now become a regular event, according to Christopher VanHaight, OFM.
“We are sure that the numbers are only going to increase,” he said.
The first 5:30 p.m. Mass in Spanish on March 1 had roughly 44 Latinos, along with several “Anglo parishioners” who came to welcome and support new worshippers. The second Mass, celebrated March 8, had 60 Latinos and several “Anglo parishioners.”
Chris reported that a choir is forming for the Spanish Mass, and he has received a request for an infant baptism in Spanish, all signs that the Hispanic ministry is alive and well at St. Bonaventure.
In a time when membership at churches is often dwindling, this is especially rewarding to Chris, who began serving at St. Bonaventure last year after his ordination.
The parish decided to offer a weekly Mass in Spanish for several reasons, according to Chris, but mostly to meet the community’s need.
“For a long time, the neighborhood has had a predominantly Latino population — Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Peruvians — and yet, we did not have a Mass in Spanish because we did not have a priest who spoke Spanish.” Chris said.
“Interestingly, at our English Masses, there were always a few Latinos, some who spoke English and others who hardly spoke a word. Yet they came because this is the closest church for them.”
A Growing Community Need
Parishioners would periodically ask Pastor Daniel Grigassy, OFM, whether there were plans for a Mass in Spanish.
The city of Paterson is 50 percent Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. “It certainly seems that the vast majority of Latinos who come to Mass are from this neighborhood,” Chris said.
The parish has been traditionally an Italian-American parish, with many parishioners who have moved away returning for Mass, religious education, and other programs, according to Chris.
“What has been so encouraging is the support I have received from many of these long-time parishioners, who see, as we friars do, that in order to keep the parish vibrant and alive, we need to reach out to the people who live in our own neighborhood.” To do this, Chris, a Boston native, spent five months in Mexico last year for language study.
When he returned home to New Jersey in January, Chris said he considered waiting until after Easter to begin the Hispanic ministry. But after two weeks of having parishioners talk to him in Spanish, he knew he had to start sooner.
A Comprehensive Ministry
Ministry to the Hispanic community does not end with Sunday Mass, Christopher pointed out. “We plan on developing a full range of sacraments and other programs that we offer to every parishioner.”
“The Spanish Mass is just like all the other Masses. It is not part of some parallel church community. The folks who come to the Spanish Mass are now part of our parish family, with the same rights and responsibilities as everybody else.” To emphasize this point, he reminded church members that they should feel free to attend either service — Spanish or English — as their schedules allows.
“Sure, they may not understand my homily, but maybe some of the Latinos cannot understand my Spanish either,” Chris joked.
In addition, he will begin the usual offeratory collection at the Spanish Mass. Until now, the collection basket has sat in the back of the church at the Spanish Mass.
“It is refreshing to hear these days about a parish that is adding Masses and new members,” Chris said. “Sure, there will be bumps in the road ahead. But to me, and to all of the friars here, this is so clearly the way ahead. We have no second thoughts about doing it. It has been a gift of grace.”
Shown in photo are Chris VanHaight, at right, with Dan Grigassy, center, and Christian Camadella, OFM, senior associate friar at St. Bonaventure Church-Friary.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.