Published November 13, 2014
LILBURN—A converted choir loft is the new home of Nuestra Fe Catholic Broadcasting Inc., transmitting its message from a church to Atlanta and the world.
From two small rooms at Our Lady of the Americas Mission, in Lilburn, volunteers answer phone calls from Atlanta’s Hispanic Catholics, in addition to people from Mexico, Central and South America, as radio personalities laugh, pray and share the callers’ concerns.
“Many people call asking for prayers because someone is sick, or my husband is in jail. A lot of mothers pray for their sons. They don’t have a community to go to,” said one of the hosts, Cucho Garcia. “We have created a virtual community. You have access to it anywhere.”
The radio broadcast booth’s two rooms are small and spare. Three people make a crowd. A crucifix and a portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe adorn the white walls.
But supporters have high hopes the booth, with its up-to-date broadcasting equipment, is a springboard to better serve the flourishing Hispanic Catholic community.
“For us, hopefully, it is the beginning of something that will grow,” said Garcia, a leader promoting the radio ministry.
“We can go from here to any radio station,” he said.
The program, “Nuestra Fe,” (“Our Faith”) has aired since April 2010, serving Hispanic Catholics who make up about half of all Catholics in the Atlanta Archdiocese. The archdiocese, it seems, cannot offer enough Masses for the community. There is overflowing attendance at Masses celebrated in Spanish, and new facilities quickly become too small as people are drawn to them for worship and to connect with the community.
Yet there are also many who live in the metro area who are not reached by parishes.
This daily radio program is a bridge between native Spanish-speakers and the local church.
“People feel like they are talking to someone from their own country,” Garcia said.
The program is broadcast seven days a week at 2 p.m. on radio station La Bonita 610 AM. It features the Gospel of the day, a homily from one of nine priests, and then a 30-minute call-in show. Listeners ask questions, seek advice and prayers. Callers phone from wherever they are. Announcers can sometimes hear the bustle of a kitchen or rumbling of a truck engine as a listener talks to them.
Calls can just as well be international as local.
“We get calls from Atlanta, Venezuela,” said Garcia. “We get calls from Mexico all the time.”
In addition, Sunday Mass is broadcast live from Our Lady of the Americas Mission at 10 a.m. on La Bonita and a 30-minute reflection is broadcast Sunday at 10:30 a.m. on La Mejor 1600 AM, 1460 AM and 1130 AM.
Religious programs in Spanish are part of a growing trend, according to a radio survey. In 2009 there were 139 stations nationwide broadcasting in the Spanish religious format. Today, the same format has 211 stations, according to Nielsen, a market research firm. A 2014 survey counted 817,000 weekly listeners older than 12 tuned to Spanish religious stations.
La Bonita told organizers the broadcasts of “Nuestra Fe” draw some 20,000 listeners. Jairo Martinez, the director of Hispanic Ministry in the archdiocese, called the program’s audience a “mega-church.
Martinez, who volunteers regularly, said he sees how the show comforts people when they call in for prayers and then call again to give thanks to God for blessings. Also, the program is growing its base of 200 monthly sustainers who contribute financially to support the ministry.
It has been a two-year project to construct the broadcast booth at the Lilburn mission, so the program and other efforts can be produced in this facility. The $20,000 project was primarily paid for by many people who stuffed five or $10 into an envelope and sent it in, Garcia said. Two radio-thons were held in 2010 and 2013.
“That’s the most touching. The Hispanic community is not the most rich or powerful” but people gave what they could, Garcia said.
In addition, the Catholic Foundation of North Georgia contributed $5,000 to the effort.
The studio is just the start of plans to serve a growing audience listening on smart phones. The show is also available live from its website, opening it to a global audience, and organizers are planning to develop a smartphone app to make it easier. They also want to build the show’s archives so people can listen on their own schedule.
On Friday, Oct. 31, close to 30 people came to the studio as Bishop Luis R. Zarama, Atlanta auxiliary bishop, was the on-air guest. He gave a homily, in addition to fielding phone calls and blessing the studio with holy water.
Most of the work is done by people who are unseen. But some say they are recognized in area restaurants when people hear their voices.
“It is my pleasure to serve. For me, I love to serve,” said Martha Bernal, 43, who answers phone calls.
“It’s very important to enjoy the work. You need to transmit the enthusiasm,” said Bernal, a native of Colombia, who worships at St. Benedict Church, in Johns Creek. After the show she also will call people back who are upset or need a shoulder to lean on.
Myrna Vazquez, 51, is a longtime volunteer. She’s seen how the radio program opens an avenue for people to unload burdens. In addition, Vazquez said she enjoys how listeners call from around the Spanish-speaking world and share stories of faith.
“That is a good opportunity for them to call for help, prayers. It gives people hope,” she said.
Garcia said the experience has deepened his faith commitment to serve.
“I had no idea how much pain and suffering there is in our Hispanic community. I pray every day for people who listen,” he said.