Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Recent Efforts Begin To Address Needs Of Hispanics

Published January 13, 2005

Archbishop John F. Donoghue led the Archdiocese of Atlanta from 1993 through 2004 as it underwent a dramatic transformation as a result of thousands of Mexicans and other Hispanics immigrating to north Georgia and becoming the majority in terms of numbers of baptized Catholics.

Signs of this burgeoning presence abound across “la arquidiócesis,” from the bilingual Eucharistic Congress, to Guadalupe images dangling above dashboards in parish parking lots, to the Spanish-language community center of Holy Spirit Church and the Catholic Solidarity School in a strip shopping area off Roswell Road.

Hispanic priests lead more Anglo parishes, 54 churches now offer Spanish Mass, there are four Latino priests on the Priests’ Council, and Father José Duvan from Colombia is a vicar for the clergy.

Father Duvan has appreciated the archbishop’s openness to the Hispanic community and willingness to listen, accept leaders’ advice and respond. Their representation on the Priests’ Council “is very important for the Hispanic community and Hispanic priests; they have us in mind in decisions, are consulting us. It’s very good for us because we feel we’re part of the archdiocese,” said Father Duvan. “Little by little the archdiocese has opened up to our Hispanic community … The archbishop gave us much hope and desire to keep building the church in the archdiocese and we will continue with organizing so that our new archbishop will continue supporting us.”

According to a professional survey on the Hispanic Catholic population carried out in 2002 by the archdiocese, the number of Hispanics, who are predominantly baptized Catholics, just in metro Atlanta, grew according to conservative estimates from over 110,000 in 1992 to over 234,010 in 1998, to 435,000 by 2002. And from 2000-2002 Atlanta experienced the fastest Hispanic growth rate among the nation’s 20 most populated metro areas. Responding to this growth, the archdiocese has been planning programs, hiring bilingual staff and making other valiant, if incipient, efforts to reach them and meet their pastoral and material needs.

In 1996 the Office of Hispanic Ministry reported 32 churches offering Mass in Spanish, while there are now 54 out of 93 churches with “misa en español”; Spanish callers now know, “en español marque uno.”

Catholic Social Services provides critical support, offering legal aid, English classes, job search and financial support, referrals and other help, as many come to escape poverty and find work, and need help with basic social services. Saint Joseph’s Hospital’s Mercy Care Services intensely assists the Hispanic community with low-cost health care, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society also aids increasing numbers of Hispanics.

One response of the archdiocese has been to recruit more seminarians from Colombia, South America, and Mexico; the first two priests from Mexico were ordained for the archdiocese in 2000. In three years, 20 new seminarians have been recruited from those two countries. In 1996 there were about nine Hispanic priests in the archdiocese while now there are 34 out of 236.

Archbishop Donoghue, in an interview Jan. 7, spoke of the major challenge to ordain more Hispanic and bilingual Anglo priests and to serve the Hispanic population.

“Because of the climate and the kinds of work available here, large numbers of Hispanics are moving into the archdiocese. There are very few parishes that don’t have a fairly large contingent of Hispanic Catholics. Many have two or three or even four Masses in Spanish. That’s why we are seeking vocations outside our boundaries, hoping to get good, solid vocations to the priesthood,” said the archbishop.

The effort to recruit men for the priesthood from Mexico and Latin American countries “has been satisfying, but it has also been ticklish.”

While many good priests have come from other countries and continents, including Latin America and Africa, “there are always some who come because they feel the good life is here and they don’t want to go back.”

Nonetheless, he said, the majority have been dedicated priests and the effort to recruit priests equipped to serve the growing Hispanic Catholic population is essential.

A unique arrangement, the El Paso Project, was pursued by the archdiocese for a time, bringing seminarians to El Paso, Texas, in the summer for an immersion in the Spanish language and in Mexican border culture. In exchange an archdiocesan priest served in the El Paso Diocese as a pastor and hosted the visiting seminarians. Seminarians are still required to study Spanish, although the El Paso Project has been discontinued.

Father Fabio Sotelo-Peña, assistant vocations director for Hispanics, hopes to begin a new program this summer to send Anglo seminarians to Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Mexico City, a seminary that forms Anglo priests who will serve in the United States.

Father Sotelo-Peña, priest-in charge of the all-Spanish Our Lady of the Americas Mission in Doraville, is grateful for the leadership of the archbishop in the Hispanic community and his support of Latin-American recruitment. “He has been very supportive of Hispanic ministry and very much interested that the archdiocese will have enough vocations and priests to cover the needs of the Hispanic community.”

Father Sotelo-Peña noted that Latino priests have also been appointed to lead several Spanish- and English-speaking congregations including St. Joseph, Dalton, St. Michael, Gainesville, St. Matthew, Winder, St. Mark, Clarkesville, and Christ Our King and Savior, Greensboro. The archbishop has also sent letters to pastors asking them to welcome Hispanics and support ministries. “You can see the trust he has for the Latino priests.”

He, too, came from Colombia to be ordained for the archdiocese in 1999.

“I want to thank him for his great service to the church. It was under his leadership I became a seminarian and a priest. I felt confident to give my life to the Lord in the archdiocese and I want to thank him for that,” he said.

Father Duvan for the past two years has been working to bring already ordained priests from Colombia and Mexico on loan here and has recently found some receptive dioceses in Mexico.

In December 2000 Archbishop Donoghue wrote a salient pastoral letter on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe published in Spanish and English in The Georgia Bulletin urging Catholics to answer the Gospel call to reach out to their Hispanic brothers and sisters. He wrote of how “each national immigrant group enriches the Church of Atlanta by contributing special talents and unique cultural and religious values to our common American heritage” and how immigrants have also “assisted significantly in the fueling of Georgia’s flourishing economy, and saved and increased jobs of Americans.”

“The future of the Church in this country, and in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, is profoundly related to our burgeoning immigrant population, particularly among our Hispanic brothers and sisters who are overwhelmingly baptized Catholics,” he wrote.

A decade earlier on the same feast day, the late Archbishop Eugene Marino, SSJ, had also issued a prescient pastoral letter on the challenges of ministering to the growing Hispanic community. “The adequate pastoral care and service of this rapidly growing Hispanic population in Atlanta and north Georgia constitutes a great challenge to the archdiocese, and calls for the renewed commitment of its priests, Religious and laity to serve selflessly … Pastoral resources for services of and outreach to our Spanish-speaking sisters and brothers are extremely limited, as are most pastoral resources in our archdiocese and the demands are enormous.”

It was Archbishop Donoghue’s pastoral letter that in 2000 galvanized Deacon Lloyd Sutter, in his new position as senior administrator of the Department of Religious Education and Faith Formation, to hire more bilingual personnel in positions including director of children’s ministry and initiation and director of sacramental formation. His goal was to have staff who could work well with both English and Hispanic parish ministers and priests and encourage them to collaborate or combine ministry when possible to create a more integrated bilingual model for education; to meet the needs of Hispanic adults and children with various levels of written and spoken Spanish and English; and to help those from rural areas and those lacking much religious education. The deacon applied his former careers as a lawyer, where he had defended organizations in labor discrimination cases and worked to integrate workplaces, and as a consultant who helped businesses run more efficiently. He now has three bilingual staffers who can teach catechist certification; materials are bilingual and Spanish interpretation is provided when needed.

“To the extent that we can, we work in the same room with both cultures and languages (and) with somebody with language capacity to help people in both groups,” he said. “We have a challenge of getting beyond side-by-side construction within our parishes (where groups) have effectively nothing to do with each other.”

He also hired Leonardo Jaramillo to direct the Hispanic youth/young adult ministry. Jaramillo now is part of the Office of Hispanic Ministry, and is juggling approximately 24 programs for young adults. The number of parish young adult groups has grown from some 15 in 2002 to 37.

Deacon Sutter regularly met with the archbishop.

“Anytime I was trying to make a decision, the archbishop, Msgr. (Paul) Reynolds, Father Duvan and I would talk about it,” he said. “It’s a collaborative effort” between the archbishop, him and bilingual staff.

Father Duvan noted the importance of adding the Hispanic young adult position, as “the biggest group in the Hispanic community is young people and we didn’t have any ministry for them.”

In 2002 in response to priests’ concern that Hispanic needs weren’t being met, the Office of Hispanic Ministry, under the archbishop’s oversight, conducted the survey entitled “Who Are We? What Do We Need?” led by Dr. Martha Rees, then an associate professor of anthropology at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, who had researched this population in Atlanta for over 10 years. The study was a first step to gain accurate information about the diverse needs of the Hispanic population.

Among a wide array of demographic information, it revealed that area Hispanics come from 20 countries, with 75 percent from Mexico, 7 percent from Colombia and 4 percent from Guatemala; the average age was 33, and the average level of education was 9.7 years. Some 61 percent of those surveyed didn’t speak English, and only 6.8 percent had taken English classes. Many would if they could. Among those surveyed, 35 percent expressed a need for more parish social services like English classes, legal aid and help getting a driver’s license, and 73 percent had never served in a parish ministry.

In 2003 the archbishop appointed Father Duvan as priest liaison to the Office of Hispanic Ministry, in addition to his role as administrator of San Felipe de Jesus Mission in Forest Park. Gonzalo Saldaña had retired as director that year after serving since 1989. Father Duvan had previously met with Archbishop Donoghue regularly regarding the search by San Felipe for a permanent house of worship before settling in Forest Park, as the all-Spanish congregation had been meeting in inadequate space in Grant Park which forced them to hold Mass outside.

The archbishop believes in the missions, Father Duvan said, as he provided San Felipe around $900,000 to buy its building in Forest Park. It’s now planning to expand and draws around 1,200 people per weekend and has started another mission at St. Matthew Church, Tyrone.

Father Duvan felt that the archbishop’s sincere and wholehearted desire to serve the people wasn’t always understood.

“Many people don’t understand or accept the archbishop … but he was a man that wanted to give his whole self and do the will of the church and of God, and with so many responsibilities on his shoulders … Today we have Mass in San Felipe as a parish because he gave us money to buy land and build a new rectory,” said Father Duvan.

He was always “disponible” (available) for the Hispanic community when asked, and, while criticized by some for not speaking Spanish, when he came to San Felipe, “I saw in his eyes that he truly felt like a priest and a pastor … Each time there was a Guadalupe feast day or some Hispanic event he always said, ‘Yes, I will be there.’”

Other efforts to reach out to Latinos where they live have led parishes to offer pastoral services in shopping centers and apartment complexes. For example, St. Benedict Church, Duluth, while already offering a Spanish Mass, also opened a mission on Buford Highway to reach those in the area, which began drawing hundreds. Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta, opened the community center off Roswell Road in Sandy Springs, offering social and pastoral services ranging from a rosary prayer group to legal seminars. It is located in the same building with the Catholic Solidarity School, which serves neighborhood Hispanic children.

Our Lady of the Americas Mission founded in the early 1990s is located in a heavily Hispanic Doraville area and provides, in addition, pastoral ministries and social services ranging from a youth gang prevention program to domestic violence education.

Father Duvan has been meeting since 2003 with pastoral groups in the archdiocese, developing a local plan for pastoral ministry emphasizing unity in diversity, based on national bishops’ documents. An archdiocesan-wide “Encuentro” with national speakers was held last year.

“The archbishop and Msgr. Paul Reynolds always said ‘yes’ and gave us the green light to all our programs,” he said.

Sister Carmen Cabrejos, ACJ, Hispanic minister at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, is meeting with other sisters to provide suggestions to Father Duvan for the plan. She also meets with Father Sotelo-Peña to hold a monthly discernment group for Hispanics considering priesthood or Religious life, a group begun in the late 1990s. She has not had much direct contact with Archbishop Donoghue but believes he’s been a strong leader for Hispanics and present to the community, recalling how he donated money to her order to enable them to rent a mobile home in Athens to minister to neighboring Hispanics, and then came to dedicate it.

“He’s seen the need of the Hispanic population generally and the need for services, not just Mass, (for) material needs, basic needs,” she said. “Sometimes a parish sees a Spanish population and doesn’t want to do anything with Hispanics … He supports the Office of Hispanic Ministry. If they feel supported, parishes also feel the effect.”

Sister Cabrejos has directly felt the Hispanic influx, as she started the Hispanic ministry with Father Richard Kieran in 1987 at the Cathedral with a small group of Cuban-Americans. She reported that they often have over 700 people at Spanish Mass, up from about 225 in 1993, and there are 304 children in religious education and 120 adults in various types of Spanish-language programs.

At CTK Sister Cabrejos and others help people as much as they can with social support, but she wishes that there were more professional social workers to assist them. “They have basic needs that (other churches) give them and that’s how we lose them.”

The archdiocese has indeed felt pressure to act as a result of other churches’ efforts to proselytize this traditionally Catholic immigrant population. The archbishop wrote in his pastoral letter that “the recent reports of the Bishops’ Committee on Hispanic Affairs state that the immense losses of Hispanics in the Church during the last 25 years amounts to a ‘hemorrhage … the equivalent of one out of every seven Hispanics,’ or hundreds of thousands now equaling several million.”

Efforts by storefront churches to draw Hispanic Catholics away from the church have sometimes been not only proselytizing, but also deceptive, Archbishop Donoghue said, citing Capilla de la Fe, a group the archdiocese successfully took to court in 2003 to prevent them from falsely communicating a “Catholic” identity to vulnerable Hispanic immigrants.

“These charismatic churches and fundamentalist groups that use Our Lady of Guadalupe to attract the people when they don’t have any regard for the Blessed Mother—I think that is a deception,” he said. “That was a rip-off. That is why we were so intent on shutting them down.”

Although growing efforts have been made by concerned Catholics and by parishes in the archdiocese to reach out to the huge number of Hispanics, Archbishop Donoghue acknowledged it is not nearly enough.

“I still think there is a long way to go here,” he said.

This challenge will benefit from the new leadership of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, he added. “New blood is always important. New ideas are always good.”