By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published January 12, 2006
Peru native Connie Francia always told herself that she was too busy to attend church activities outside of Mass with being a full time pre-med student and having a hospital job, but then she signed up along with her boyfriend for a Juventud con Cristo retreat that enlightened her path.
The Spanish retreat, sponsored last September by the archdiocesan Office of Hispanic Youth and Young Adult Ministry, drew Francia and over 180 Hispanic youth and focused on spiritual renewal and evangelization. The retreat prepared young adults spiritually for a series of meetings sponsored by the National Catholic Network of Pastoral Juvenil Hispana (Hispanic Youth and Young Adult Ministry).
An archdiocesan conference will be held Jan. 21 at St. Lawrence Church, Lawrenceville, as well as other dioceses around the country, leading up to the First National Encounter for Hispanic Youth and Young Adult Ministry in the United States to be held June 8-11 at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, for an estimated 2,000 Hispanic young adults. At the retreat last year “we just completely decided that we needed to go back to church. We were both brought up in the church but had never put any effort into it,” said the bilingual 20-year-old Francia. “I said I’m going to stop making excuses that I don’t have time.”
Francia, who’s lived eight years in the United States, then became involved in the young adult group at St. Michael Church, Gainesville, and even began helping to lead their parish encuentro (meeting) process, which culminated in a parish retreat the weekend of Jan. 7 and was attended by about 35 participants.
“I think it has brought other young adults back to God, to thinking that it’s not all boring and strict and (only saying) you can’t do this or that,” she said. “We had more fun than anything. We even had a dance on Saturday night. Most of the retreat we were singing and dancing with songs for God, having lessons and did group work.”
She has found peace in becoming involved in the Hispanic ministry, allowing her to stay connected to God, her heritage and church. She’s begun teaching the faith to children, and hopes to attend the Archdiocesan Catholic School for Spanish religious formation. And to her surprise, “school has been better—better grades, better attitude. It’s no more of a lazy attitude. I’m don’t want to waste my time. I’m always doing something.”
She and others at St. Michael’s look forward to more spiritual growth and fellowship at the archdiocesan-wide event at St. Lawrence, which will feature a morning reflection by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and a consecrating of the participants to the Virgin Mary.
Leonardo Jaramillo is delighted to see people like Francia fully embrace their faith, as he has a mission that he travels far and wide across the archdiocese to fill, while frequently fielding calls on his cell phone: to serve the various pastoral needs of Hispanic young people across North Georgia and to develop their leadership capacity to better serve the increasingly Hispanic church of tomorrow in Atlanta.
When Jaramillo took the position in 2002 of archdiocesan director of Hispanic youth and young adult ministry, he quickly joined the NCNPJH, while planning a broad array of regular spiritual and social activities for Hispanic young adults such as monthly adoration and Mass. The national network was founded in 1997 and focuses on the evangelization, holistic development and ongoing support and formation of Hispanic young adults in the United States, having grown out of the Southeast Pastoral Institute in Miami.
“It began to grow always with the primary focus of strengthening the leadership of Hispanic youth,” explained Jaramillo. “The level of leadership of Hispanic young adults is more and more visible in churches. The fruit of our work we are going to see in 10 years. We are putting all our efforts into forming them in values, commitment to the church that a lot of times they didn’t have before. … They will make possible this pastoral plan for Hispanic ministry and realize it. … We can’t lose time in forming young people. We are investing in the future.”
The Network is now sponsoring this series of young adult ministry conferences around the country with the theme “Weaving the Future Together,” which began last year at the parish level and are now being held at the diocesan level, to be followed by regional gatherings. The final national conference at Notre Dame is cosponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Notre Dame and is aimed at identifying principles and components of ministry; developing more effective ministry models for Hispanic youth and young adults rooted in their reality in the United States at the parish, diocesan and regional level; and encouraging Hispanics to participate more fully and enthusiastically in the church and society.
“A specific objective is not to only have one encuentro gathering but to have a process of analysis of the reality and of the preparation of the young adults to attend the national gathering,” said Jaramillo. “We are committed to developing Hispanic young adult ministry, always looking to fulfill the objective to have a future in solidarity, looking to develop leadership in Hispanics for the service of the church.”
The archdiocesan event, geared to persons ages 18-35, runs from 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m. The closing Mass at 8 p.m. will be celebrated by Father Jose Duvan Gonzalez, director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry, and Father Jesus David Trujillo Luna will send forth those elected as delegates to attend the regional encuentro that will be held March 24-26 at St. Andrew Church, Roswell, for delegates from about 30 dioceses around the Southeast. From there national delegates will be elected. There will also be exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction. Jaramillo expects various priests and Religious to attend, as well as the director of the Southeast Pastoral Institute and of young adult Hispanic ministries in Charlotte and Texas.
The events are supported by the USCCB. “The bishops are looking at this with great hope because all these processes we’ve had are going to provide an analysis of the reality both at the parish, diocesan and regional level and their conclusions about what they want to have the church do for them and what they can do to help,” Jaramillo said. The initiative will provide insight on “what we can do to empower young adult programs in the United States…What are the priorities that after the national event we can begin to work on?”
Jaramillo cited broad areas of need as being religious formation, social support, language acquisition, and acculturation. National planners call the meetings a first step in helping the church as a whole to “understand, embrace and affirm the unique cultural identify, reality and gifts of Hispanic youth and young adults.”
This effort is strongly needed as there are an estimated 41.3 million Hispanics in the United States. An estimated 17 million of them are under age 25, accounting for almost of half of all Catholics under age 25, reports the Hispanic Network. The number of Hispanics who are Catholic has remained steadily at about 70 percent. In Georgia there are now an estimated 598,000 Hispanic people, a population that grew about 300 percent from 1990 to 2000. For 48 churches with Spanish young adult programs across the archdiocese this ministry is no longer the occasional meeting following Spanish Mass or outreach to a heavily Latino apartment complex but is an integral part of parish life, requiring the support of many volunteers. The archdiocesan 2003 survey found that the average age of the Hispanic immigrant attending Mass is 33.
At least 32 churches in North Georgia have already participated in encuentro parish programs over five meetings in which participants reflected on various themes for each of which they each wrote reflections. Parishes also held an activity to invite Hispanics in their area who don’t attend church and asked them to answer survey questions regarding topics such as their thoughts on the church and about their life at home and at work.
At the St. Lawrence event, participants in a morning session will explore and summarize recurrent themes about their ministries expressed by participants at their parish level event. Topics explored include encounter, conversion, communion, solidarity, and mission, drawing from pastoral documents. In the afternoon they’ll reflect more on archdiocesan young adult programming.
One important means of formation in Spanish in the archdiocese is the Archdiocesan Catholic School, which Jaramillo began to provide courses on fundamentals of Catholicism. He acknowledged that some immigrants are struggling with spiritual, legal and social issues related to their residency status but said that his work is to serve their pastoral needs, while supporting affirmative initiatives such as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Justice for Immigrants” national advocacy campaign for immigration law reforms.
Angeles Centeno has served in the young adult ministry for six years at St. Michael Church in Gainesville, and along with Francia assisted with organizing their parish encuentro process last fall for some 50 participants ages 16-30, culminating with the parish retreat. The young adult group meets every Friday night. She has found that their meetings have challenged them to focus more on reaching out to those struggling in the larger community, becoming a voice for social justice.
“We are called to contribute to the common good and to be a voice for those who aren’t able to defend their rights, to health care, a home, salary and dignified work, a commitment to these people. We must continue working and developing ourselves to help in the evangelization of our community,” Centeno said. “The walk of solidarity calls us to see the need in others.”
The parish meetings have also encouraged members to strengthen their relationship with Christ and to make needed changes in their lives, and to make or strengthen their commitment to serve the church and their neighbors in need. They also held an outdoor bonfire party where they invited area residents and were able to draw visitors to the church. “We have this commitment to keep fishing and evangelizing and reach out to young people who don’t go to church, and to become more active in the church.”
In their ministry they have explored how to deal with culture shock, as many arrive here knowing nothing about American history and culture. They also discussed how to maintain their Catholic and cultural identities as they adapt to American society, while affirming the gifts they have to share with others through their faith and culture. She added that some of their group challenges involve the need for religious education of members.
Jaramillo is excited about the potential of these gatherings to strengthen ministries. “The number of Hispanic young people has grown such that they are no longer in the shadows but a reality and we need to empower them to offer the church all the gifts they have but first they must be recognized and prepared.”
For more information call Leonardo Jaramillo at (404) 885-7412 or to register for the encuentro visit www.laredpjh.org or on the archdiocesan ministry www.juvatlanta.com. Persons may also register at the door. The requested donation for the archdiocesan event is $15. St. Lawrence Church is located at 319 Grayson Highway, Lawrenceville.