By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published December 7, 2006
From creating programs to help native Hispanic priests better adapt to their new surroundings in Georgia to promoting immigration reform that is just, the archdiocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry is busy on many fronts.
Every month the office holds catechetical and formation workshops in six regional locations to help Hispanic ministers in parishes develop their skills and access more resources to become better leaders and bridges between their communities and other Catholics.
Hispanic Ministry program coordinator Jairo Martinez said that many ministry leaders, largely volunteers, grow to be more confident and committed Christian leaders. Ideally they also become bilingual and learn about the diverse Latin cultures of those they serve. Some presenters for the workshops are priests brought in from Latin America.
“Regional meetings with the leaders … develop skills and … show them how they can contribute more and better help pastors to develop Hispanic ministries,” Martinez said.
As bridges are built in North Georgia parishes and missions with Hispanic ministries, Martinez has found that Anglos are increasingly open and welcoming to the vibrant Hispanic presence embroidered into the fabric of parish life. At present 59 churches have a Spanish Mass and many have larger Hispanic ministries. There are 34 active Hispanic ministry priests. The Census Bureau estimated in 2005 there are 576,211 people of Hispanic origin in Georgia.
“We have a huge challenge and a huge opportunity. There are thousands of Catholic Hispanics coming to the area, baptized Catholics, and we need to offer them a welcome in our church because it’s their church, too. And as far as we know in North Georgia there are around 450,000 Hispanic Catholics,” Martinez said. “The archbishop has supported us a lot. He’s seen the need.”
Leading the office is director Father José Duván González, while Martinez serves as program coordinator and Leonardo Jaramillo is the director of Hispanic youth and young adult ministry, supported by office manager Sonia Aguero.
The 2007 Archbishop’s Annual Appeal has a goal of $6 million, which is needed to support various ministries of the Catholic Church in North Georgia. The Office of Hispanic Ministry is projected to receive about $311,374 from the appeal. About 80 percent of the money allocated to this office goes to pay for their salaries and that of Father Joseph Fahy, CP, and some other priests and Religious working on their behalf in parishes. While a small portion of budget money goes to carry out programs and publish the calendar and other printed materials, they continually accept donations to help carry out programs and services.
Last February the office held an enculturation workshop for Anglo priests to help them better understand Hispanic cultures. This is in accordance with one of its missions, which is to foster unity between Hispanic and Anglo Catholics.
“It was amazing. All the priests said that is something that needs to be done with all the deacons, sisters and staff involved with Hispanic ministry,” reported Martinez.
Another enculturation workshop was held for Hispanic priests in 2005, and they are planning one for lay ministers in 2007.
Father Duván said they can only begin to tap the ocean of need in Hispanic ministry but that their outreach is critical, adding that he recently attended an ecumenical conference on Hispanic ministry sponsored by Emory’s Candler School of Theology where he saw how various denominations are eagerly recruiting clergy and catechists from Latin America to attract Hispanics.
“Little by little we have realized that the Hispanic presence is a reality. The support of the archbishop and the archdiocesan offices have been 100 percent, and that gives us a lot of hope and gladness to continue in this work to welcome the stranger,” he said. “We are conscious that the majority are Catholic, and if we don’t welcome them we lose them as Catholics, so there’s a great need to work hard to promote vocations and in youth and young adult ministry and to bring priests from Latin America.”
In addition, the Hispanic office is helping to sponsor a new St. Paul Acculturation Program approved for implementation where priests recruited by Father Duván from Latin America as well as others from around the world will have the opportunity over six months to take English classes at a local institution and to learn about American culture and the programs, activities and departments of the Atlanta Archdiocese. Up until now there has not been a standard program and priests ministering to Spanish-speakers have often not had enough opportunities to learn English, but rather, upon arrival, have been given a beeper, schedule and told “God bless you,” said Father Duván.
He believes the new program will help the archdiocese to recruit more Latin American priests. When he met recently in Mexico with the apostolic nuncio, president of the bishops’ conference, and a cardinal, he received feedback that they believe the program will be very valuable.
“It is what they need to know to send priests with more confidence to serve in the archdiocese,” he said.
The office is also trying to recruit a second Portuguese-speaking priest to the archdiocese. At present only Brazilian Father Sebastian Andrade is available to serve two churches, Father Duvan said, noting that there are some 45 non-Catholic churches in the area with Brazilian ministries. Next year he plans to recruit in Central America, including Guatemala, as many Guatemalans here who don’t know Spanish need priests speaking their indigenous language.
Next April 24 Father Duván and Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory will visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City where a Mexican cardinal will bless 10 images of Mary, after which they’ll bring them back to Atlanta for December coronation ceremonies in parishes where they’ll be displayed.
The Hispanic Ministry Office’s main goal is to support and be a resource for churches in their liturgical, pastoral and social justice needs in serving Hispanics in their area, and to guide those seeking to establish one. Martinez said that they also want to designate some pilot ministry programs in parishes that can serve as model ministries.
The office continually strives to improve communication to foster unity among ministries, and relies largely on mailings and e-mail, as well as a youth and young adult Web site (juvatlanta.com) to inform ministry leaders of events.
Since 2004 they have held a yearly “encuentro” conference on Hispanic ministry to focus on goals. The conference has grown from 150 to about 300 participants. “This year we had a huge turnout because we’ve seen more and more are becoming part of ministries at parishes,” reported Martinez.
The office also would like to start a program to promote stewardship and parish registration in the Hispanic community. But Father Duvan stressed that Hispanics who are too poor to give much find creative ways to serve. At his church, San Felipe de Jesus Mission in Forest Park, members in three years have raised $320,000 in the chapel fund just through fundraisers such as selling pupusas, tacos and other homemade foods.
“(And) I’ve never paid for landscaping for San Felipe in four years because the community does it. There are always volunteers,” Father Duvan said.
He emphasized that the office is always as frugal as possible, and community members and churches often help subsidize program and retreat expenses.
“One goal I’ve had the last four years is to show that the Hispanic community is not a burden. … From our poverty and needs we are also able to provide support and not be a burden for the archdiocese.”
The “Pastoral Juvenil,” targeting those under 35 years of age, sponsors a rich array of programs, including a monthly Mass, fiestas, soccer tournaments and a catechetical school which holds a comprehensive educational series, covering topics ranging from Bible study to immigration and the church. About 47 parishes have Hispanic youth/young adult programs. A group of about 20 participated in its annual mission trip, which this year went to Colombia.
Father Duván and Martinez also work with Catholic Charities on the local committee for the church’s national Justice for Immigrants Campaign, which supports fair and humane immigration reform that allows undocumented immigrants to earn their way to citizenship, and calls for more government focus on addressing the root causes of poverty in their homelands. Catholic Charities is now sponsoring forums in parishes to educate immigrants on their legal rights in light of the implementation of the state S.B. 529 next July, which targets the undocumented. Martinez believes that Catholics must view the issue in light of respect for human dignity.
“For me the most important issue in this archdiocese right now regarding the community is the Justice for Immigrants program. … (The undocumented) are afraid of what is going to happen with the laws. Some of them don’t want to go out. I think the church has to give them a voice,” Martinez said. “There are many things we still can do working at the archdiocesan level. … The best tool right now we know is to pray, and we don’t have that sense right now that we should be praying to have some laws to protect immigrants.”
Father Duvan said that the archdiocese in 2007 will launch a campaign encouraging parishes to hold special Masses, the rosary, Way of the Cross services and holy hours for the undocumented and other immigrants, and that they plan to hold a day of prayer for the archdiocese. “The role of the church right now is fundamental, to help these people without hope to put all their trust in God. And for this we are praying a lot for all the legislators and governors of this country, that they call for immigration reform that is comprehensive and respects the human person.”
All registered households of the archdiocese should have received donor pledge forms for the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal in the mail. Additional envelopes are available at all parishes and missions. In addition to donations in cash or by check, individuals can arrange through their bank to have pledges automatically deducted from their account. Six parishes have arranged for donations to be made by credit card. More information is available at the archdiocesan Web site, www.archatl.com, in the stewardship and development area.