By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special to the Bulletin | Published September 3, 2020 | En Español
ATLANTA—Growing up in the coffee country of Caldas, Colombia, William Cardona discerned a missionary vocation and entered the Redemptorists, earning a master’s degree in theology from the Pontifical Urbanian University in Rome. But he eventually shifted course and married, which led to a robust new lay mission to strengthen the fe (faith) of the church in the United States.
“In my time as a seminarian I came to understand my vocation to service not through the priesthood but through another sacrament of service, the sacrament of marriage,” Cardona reflected. “We began to get involved in university ministry and as newlyweds in the church to offer our knowledge and learn to be instruments of God in service to the community.”
Since moving from Colombia in 2008, the prolific lay minister has created and implemented projects in marriage and family ministry and consulted in training programs for the Hispanic community across the United States. Partners in marriage and mission, he and wife Andrea Blanco first moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and immediately began leading retreats and developing formation programs.
From 2011-18 Cardona served as coordinator of Hispanic family life, catechesis and adult faith formation for the Diocese of Raleigh, working alongside his wife. The couple spoke at the World Meeting of Families in 2015. Cardona also served on the national committee for the V National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry in 2018, created the Iglesias Domesticas (Domestic Churches) webpage and contributed to the USCCB website portumatrimonio.org. The couple even wrote about persevering over 3,860 days of prayer until the birth of their son after infertility struggles for over a decade.
“God takes his time to refine us through faith, perseverance, and hope,” he reflected. “We saw the need to offer resources. Unfortunately, there aren’t many resources for the Hispanic Latino community especially on the topics of marriage and family.”
Cardona now brings that passion for family ministry and vision for creative catechesis as the new assistant director of Hispanic and Latino cultures of the Atlanta Archdiocese’s Office of Intercultural Ministries. He began on July 6 and immediately got to work despite COVID-19 in creating a 2020-21 work plan approved in August by Archbishop Gregory Hartmayer, OFM Conv.
Indeed, the church’s emerging Hispanic majority now comprises more than 40 percent of U.S. Catholics—and at least 50 percent of Catholics under 18. From 1990-2016 the Hispanic Latino Catholic population increased by 13.7 million while the overall U.S. Catholic population increased by 3.6 million. In Georgia from 2000-2016 the Hispanic population grew from 435,227 to 962,360. But challenges remain as in 2016 only 52 percent of Hispanics identified as Catholic.
Getting to know the community
Cardona, 42, has already met virtually with many ministry leaders. “The Hispanic Latino Catholic community is one that grows day by day not only in the Archdiocese of Atlanta but also in other dioceses of our region. It’s a great joy to find an enormous group of Hispanics who want to participate in conferences, workshops and in everything that the diocese provides. It’s very beautiful and gratifying. People are eager to learn, to integrate, to work actively in the church,” he said. “Our first mission in this office is to be very active so as to understand the needs of our Hispanic community, to be a support, a bridge to this community and to be more visible with the support of our archbishop.”
Among priorities, Cardona seeks to expand marriage preparation and spiritual retreats and develop catechetical programs. In October he’ll present a mercy themed catechesis and a guide he’s crafted for formation of family missionary disciples. Parishes will then host encounters followed by an archdiocesan encounter next spring.
“Our parishes count on a pastoral plan for marriage and family organized and established that understands the pastoral needs of married couples and family members of their parishes, even more so in these times,” he said.
The director of the Office of Intercultural Ministries Lucia Baez Luzondo has previously worked with Cardona on national projects. She noted that with his guide, “the entire missionary discipleship experience of the Encuentro V of Hispanic Latino Ministry can live from the heart of the family.”
“He’s a true leader and an influencer of Hispanics and probably one of the best traits is his strategic planning abilities and most especially his ability to produce and develop entire programs for Hispanic ministry,” she said. “He’s developed programs that have been approved by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization where he has good connections as well. So, we can expect top notch initiatives and programs for Hispanics in Atlanta now with William.”
Cardona also enthusiastically plans to equip young adults through new resources on topics from spiritual growth to social doctrine.
“There’s a need to develop projects for young adults who have a great charisma, great potential, but need to be fed spiritually and through formation, through pastoral projects,” affirmed Cardona.
Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, USCCB assistant director of Hispanic Affairs, called him “one of the best in the country” in creating content that addresses the culture and lived reality of Hispanics in the United States. “He’s very skilled and knowledgeable and has a very professional approach to ministry,” he said. “I’ve been very impressed with his capacity not only to build the content of programming but also to engage the community and have the community participate in significant numbers and benefit from the experience whether it’s a catechetical conference or family retreat or something with youth.”
Being part of the solution
And as the church decries racism as antithetical to Gospel values, Cardona will also write catechetical resources to support the USCCB’s 2018 pastoral letter “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love.”
“The pastoral letter tells us that we must begin to work immediately to expunge racism from our hearts,” Cardona said. “We will work through this resource so that our community can deepen their understanding of the pastoral letter and find ways to begin to work on this theme to eradicate this sin from parishes.”
Racism may be conscious or unconscious and “sometimes it’s a sin of omission, being a collaborator through silence,” he added.
Cardona’s effort is part of a church wide initiative. “The Catholic Church and the military are the most multicultural institutions in the United States,” Aguilera-Titus said. “So, there are a lot of intercultural conversations happening at this time within the church precisely on this issue. It’s a problem that society has and we all need to be part of the solution.”
The work plan’s other goals are to encourage vocations and help children access Catholic schools. And looking outward, the office will prioritize migrant worker ministry. But the first challenge will be to even get into the parishes amid COVID-19.
“It will be the first challenge to come together again and involve the entire Hispanic community in the pastoral plan,” he said. “Our objective is to reach the entire Hispanic community and our Mexican brothers and sisters, Colombian, our Central American brothers and sisters and from other countries so that we all become one.”
As he digs into ministry, Cardona already feels at home in international Atlanta.
“They have received me with such love and appreciation from day one that I haven’t felt like a stranger. I’ve felt like family, and it’s allowed us to develop this work plan for the community,” he said. “We bring our fears, our worries, our strengths and we all share our vision of what the future can bring.”
In that spirit of collaborative mission, Cardona joyfully goes forth to fortify and enrich the body of Christ in North Georgia. “It’s the central theme of our work plan to strengthen the faith and leadership, in our case with Hispanics in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.”