By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published May 13, 2004
The number of Spanish young adult parish ministries in the archdiocese has grown from 17 to 40 since 2002—one small señal (sign) of the depth and breadth of pastoral need of this steadily growing, predominantly Catholic Hispanic immigrant population across North Georgia.
And as coordinator of the Oficina de la Juventud, or Hispanic Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office, Leonardo Jaramillo has been busy responding to and working with other Hispanic young adult ministry leaders and the Department of Religious Education and Faith Formation since then to provide parishes with support while also planning archdiocesan-wide programs. And they know there’s no time to waste in reaching this traditionally Catholic population, as Protestant churches strive to evangelize them.
At 26, Jaramillo seems quite content to take on the challenge, as with a calm eagerness he showed a Power Point presentation to the reporter on April 15 on the history and current reality of archdiocesan Hispanic young adult ministry. This ministry began with the work seven years ago by Deacon Enrique Galvis. And pulling up its snazzy www.juvatlanta.com Web site, Jaramillo showed pictures of everything from one of the 22 parish fútbol teams to the monthly night of adoration, and said he’s receiving e-mail inquiries constantly on the ministry from as far away as Bolivia, Argentina, Peru and Venezuela.
The 2000 census reported 35.3 million Hispanics in the United States, an increase of 13 million from 1990. It also showed that 35.7 percent of Hispanics were less than 18 years old, compared with 23.5 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
The archdiocese created Jaramillo’s position in the Hispanic Apostolate in 2002 to better respond to the needs of Hispanic young adults, as the average age of Hispanics attending Spanish Mass here is 33, and 61 percent don’t speak any English, according to a comprehensive survey sponsored by the Hispanic Apostolate. Jaramillo estimated that of the approximate 560,000 Hispanics living in North Georgia, 174,000 are Hispanic Catholics, ages 18-35. There are now 53 communities with Spanish Mass and 48 Spanish-speaking priests.
Deacon Lloyd Sutter, senior administrator of the Department of Religious Education and Faith Formation, noted the importance of fostering leadership and involvement in the Hispanic young adult community, with its population being significantly younger than the Anglo Catholic community.
“It’s an awesome opportunity. There are problems and lots of opportunities if you work them right,” he said. “I hope we can work with them and make it succeed.”
In focusing on communications to draw the community together, the office has done everything from designing the logo and Web site, complete with links to receive papal messages or to adopt a priest, to its work to produce a monthly newsletter and calendar listing, and establish the youth section, “Jovenes con Cristo” in the Siglo Católico Spanish Catholic newspaper.
“The goal is to achieve a unity of spirit, attitude, activities, formation and leadership in each one of the young adult groups of the archdiocese,” said Jaramillo, who holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Regina Apostolorum, Rome, Italy, and a degree in humanities and literature from the University of Salamanca, Spain.
Youth ministry in the Hispanic church generally refers to those from the ages of 13 to 35; however, the Hispanic Youth and Young Adult Ministry is primarily focusing now on those ages 18 to 35. Persons are drawn not just to having programs in Spanish, but also to having incorporation of Latino cultures and traditions. Jaramillo estimates that 30 percent of participating young adults are bilingual and 95 percent are immigrants.
“The Archdiocese of Atlanta is opening its doors and the community is responding. The young people are happy that the archdiocese is thinking of them,” he said. “It was necessary to show the archdiocese all the needs of the Hispanic young people– the loneliness they experience, poverty, separation from families, such hard work they have to do in things like construction and yard work. We need to show the archdiocese that we needed to give to these young people stronger support.”
To help generate Hispanic priests and lay leaders they started the Spanish Archdiocesan Catholic School, a six-cycle program in which priests teach on topics including world religions, the sacraments and liturgy. One recent cycle had 70 students from 25 parishes. There is also a six-part intensive Bible study held for a week every six months, taught by a seminary professor from Colombia.
“There are so many needs and few people have the formation,” Jaramillo said. “We’re responding to the need for leaders well formed in the doctrine, spirituality and leadership to be able to help the church.”
Pablo Gora, who was born in Colombia and grew up in the United States, was impressed with the formation program he participated in.
“It was awesome. It was definitely very much needed. It’s something I kind of find especially within our community. We find people who are Catholic who really know and own their faith versus cultural Catholics. It’s the only opportunity I know of” for Spanish-speaking young adults to learn the faith, he said.
“It’s something that had to happen. There’s one doctrine and one faith and it’s to better know the faith and own it, to better practice it and discuss it.”
He is grateful for Jaramillo’s work, as now there is more unity among young adult programs.
“Everybody looks up to him. He’s a true leader … He found his passion and faith and followed the combination,” he said. “He is still one of the most humble people. He makes time to go out of his way to see how every person is doing. He does it because he has that big, huge heart for the youth.”
While a bilingual student at Kennesaw State University, Gora enjoys gathering with other Hispanics as “it’s like a shared sense of self.” He had also led the Hispanic young adult group at Holy Spirit Mission, consisting of new immigrants, where gatherings were about “socializing and a chance to be with community as much as talking about the faith. It was a beautiful time … It completely has a deep feeling of family. It’s very intimate.”
Gilberto Espinosa, who works for a travel agency and is learning English, knows firsthand the need for the centralized office, as he began the young adult group at Holy Cross Church, Atlanta, without having a Spanish-speaking priest there for months. He became involved in Hispanic young adult ministry activities after having had a conversion experience at a night of adoration in his homeland of Colombia where he cried out for God’s presence and for release from his fears. Understanding the hardship of immigration, he recalled telling the newly arrived immigrants at Holy Cross, who were often depressed and had nothing, that God was always with them, and strove to provide them a welcoming family environment. He now volunteers for archdiocesan activities, and had planned the liturgy for the Pascua Juvenil (Youth Easter), a traditional Hispanic church event the week after Easter, which this year was organized in partnership with the Office of Vocations and drew over 500 attendees and had the theme of vocational discernment.
“We come together. We know we are all working for the same thing. The time is not important nor how tired we are. We work hard. We continue forming ourselves,” Espinosa said. Through daily reading, reflection and rosary recitation, “I always have God in my mind and heart … The Lord manifests himself daily to me. This inspires me to keep working.”
The archdiocese also formed a team for the Easter Book, where youth from 14 dioceses around the Southeast gather yearly to write chapters for a book on a theme to be explored at the Pascua Juvenil. This year the Pascua Juvenil was “to show young people the meaning of vocation in their lives and what the archdiocese offers those with vocational restlessness,” Jaramillo said. “In all our countries the (Pascua Juvenil) is a day for young people after Easter. In Colombia it’s very traditional.”
Having been an altar boy in the Vatican, Jaramillo also hopes to inspire young souls in a school for altar servers now with 370 children. There are also monthly Spanish young adult Masses and nights of adoration. They exercise their bodies with the fútbol league, which has drawn up to over 300 players per tournament, and they plan and attend mission trips. This year around 18 young adults are going to El Salvador to work in an orphanage and hospital.
The young adult pastoral council, the Experiencia Cristo formation retreat for those not attending church and youth components of the Cursillo retreat, the charismatic renewal ministry and the Christ Renews His Parish program while already in existence, now are being supported by Jaramillo’s office. Another retreat begun three years ago, Juventud con Cristo, focuses more on formation.
“All this existed before I arrived and we were in the Atlanta Archdiocese without having from the archdiocese an office which would help them to coordinate their activities,” said Jaramillo.
In beginning his ministry, Jaramillo had initially met with priests serving Hispanics, young adults and their ministry leaders to gain information. He said their priorities are spiritual formation, integration for the young adults into the U.S. church, improvement of communication within and outside the archdiocese and providing apostolic activities and those focused on evangelization. The office has a goal that all young adult groups have components of formation, spirituality, integration, communication and apostolate.
“In one month the young adult groups have the four activities of formation, spirituality, social and an activity of the archdiocese,” he said. While ministries report to their parishes, “we are helping each parish to form its plan, a calendar, program of activities, a structure, … and to get the economic support of the parish.”
They recently began a pilot project for teens, which includes supporting the Hispanic youth, ages 12-17, in the existing Anglo youth ministry at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Alpharetta, and emphasized that they are not advocating for separate programs in Spanish for teens. His office is meeting with the Anglo archdiocesan Offices of Young Adult and Youth Ministry so that they can share ideas and collaborate, and he is beginning to have their formation program interpreted simultaneously into English.
The message is “the church is one … We are all part of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.”
Deacon Sutter, having worked as a lawyer to help desegregate the nation in the 1960s, stressed the value of collaboration with Anglo program leaders when possible and programming bilingual functions. But he realizes many don’t speak English and may come from rural Mexican towns that priests rarely visited. They must be reached where they are, he said.
“We’re saying let’s collaborate, work together. To the extent we can participate in each other’s activities we build a stronger young adult community. We exchange a lot of information between each other … I know they are attempting to develop leadership skills in the young adults as part of the pastoral plan and I am working with Father (Jose) Duvan (Gonzalez), Jairo (Martinez) and Leonardo in this objective. Anything that he accomplishes in the Hispanic community is complementary to what our office is attempting to do for the entire diocese,” he said. Deacon Sutter thinks that his department has a good team to work with, noting the high energy level and leadership skills of Jaramillo and Father Duvan Gonzalez, priest liaison for the Hispanic Apostolate, and the organizational skills of Martinez, the apostolate’s administrator. In the Hispanic and Anglo communities, “the young adult ministry here, it’s an example for the rest of Catholic dioceses around the country.”
Jaramillo, who has worked in youth ministry in Mexico, Italy and Portugal, speaks with a sense of passion for his mission to further develop that ministry. He credits his strong church upbringing in Medellin, Colombia.
“I’m very grateful to the Legionaries of Christ that helped me to mature in service to the church and always give the best of myself … In Medellin the church was very active and instilled in us that we have to help the church and evangelize and work for it,” he said. “All my life I’ve been studying and in formation for youth and young adult ministry.”
As he looks to the challenges that lie ahead, he reflects that “the fruits achieved up until now have been thanks to the work of the team of priests, deacons, Religious, youth and the youth office. The future depends on maintaining and enriching this unity.”
Father Gonzalez also stressed that collaboration must continue, or else they face the risk of losing Hispanics to Protestant churches evangelizing through services ranging from job search assistance to providing recreational space, and developing their own pastoral plan for Hispanics. And churches provide a safe space both for needed recreation, socializing and spiritual renewal, which is particularly important when some are drawn to vices and self-destructive behavior like gangs, prostitution and alcoholism to cope with the challenges of immigration.
“If we don’t attend to them, we are going to lose a large number of Hispanic youth who are originally Catholic. With various churches offering services around them, tomorrow we don’t know in what church they are going to be,” said Father Gonzalez, who is also priest administrator of San Felipe de Jesús Mission in Forest Park. “The Hispanic Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office has become a big help to the young people through the activities they offer … But everything we do is nothing in comparison to what they need. It’s only one percent of all we need to offer them. It’s a wake-up because the reality is getting bigger and bigger.”
The priest liaison hopes all Hispanic ministers will take advantage of available services within the archdiocese. “Here we have a great opportunity for young people to find in the church their place where they have fun, get to know others and celebrate the faith in their language and culture,” he said. “The doors of the office of the Hispanic Apostolate and Office for Hispanic Young Adult Ministry are open to offer them what programs they are doing from here … and to advise them in their parishes and communities in how to implement Hispanic ministry and how to attend to the Hispanic young people in their communities.”