Local News Archive
Print Issue: June 22, 2000
Outreach Invites Hispanics To Return To Church
By Priscilla Greear, Staff Writer
ATLANTAIn an effort to reach Hispanic Catholics, the Archdiocese of Atlanta is plugging into Spanish media outlets as one of many means to invite Latinos home to their church.
As part of a new evangelization program, advertisements will be printed in the newspapers El Norte and La Opinion de Georgia and commercials will be aired on Spanish Radiomex, said Father Jaime Barona, who leads Hispanic ministry at St. Benedict Church, Duluth. He is also the Hispanic representative on an evangelization committee formed in January by Archbishop John F. Donoghue.
Father Barona hopes to secure a weekly or twice weekly Catholic hour on Radiomex where he and other priests will discuss issues relating to Catholicism. Hispanic clergy will also be encouraged to submit articles for publication.
Radiomex reaches about 45,000 people per day in the metro area of Atlanta so thats a great tool for us in the evangelization program, Father Barona said.
Archbishop Donoghue initiated the archdiocesan-wide outreach in response to the Holy Fathers desire for the universal church to focus on evangelization in the Jubilee Year. Entitled Come To Me, the program will begin on Corpus Christi Sunday, June 25, with a 2:30 p.m. service at the Cathedral of Christ the King.
I think its going to be a great opportunity for Hispanic Catholics to come back and (rediscover) their faith, to have the reassurance that the church is always there for them, that we are happy to have them back, that we are one church, that we are one spirit in Christ. And most of all that we Hispanics in this diocese count and we are a very important part of being Catholic, of the church, Father Barona said.
While the region has a growing Latino middle class, Mexicans and Central Americans continue to pour into North Georgia for low-paying, unskilled jobs in the states poultry processing, carpet, agriculture, landscaping, construction, hotel and restaurant industries and other service jobs. They have fled conditions like immense poverty and natural disasters. There are an estimated half million Hispanics living in the archdiocese, with the majority identifying themselves as Catholic, and 41 churches have Hispanic outreach programs. Officially, the diocese has 320,000 Catholics.
Father Barona explained that, like the Anglo outreach efforts, parishioners in Hispanic parishes will be trained and will form evangelization teams to reach Hispanics no longer coming to church. Each parish will determine its specific needs and will also employ existing evangelization efforts, such as small faith-sharing groups. Father Barona will form a Hispanic committee and plans to meet occasionally with representatives of all Hispanic ministries.
The effort will include initiatives like the Catholics Returning Home program, a six-week series that will be offered after Christmas and Easter. Spanish and English prayer cards will be distributed on Corpus Christi Sunday that will include a phone number and web page information so recipients can access the resources of the archdiocese. The project will culminate the weekend of Corpus Christi 2001. The archdiocese has rented the Georgia International Convention Center for June 16, 2001, and will host a daylong celebration for all Catholics. It will include Hispanic speakers.
While many poor Latino immigrants are faith-filled and former churchgoers in their homelands, Father Barona said they are the hardest to reach as they drift away while struggling to absorb the culture, learn English and work 12-hour days.
Now it is a great time for us to reach out to them and tell them, We know what youre going through, but we love you. We want you back home. This is your home. We welcome you.
Actions for Hispanics speak louder than words, as they need more immigration and social services and English classes. Transpor-tation is a common need, he said, noting that St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Alpharetta has an effective shuttle service to Sunday Mass. Hispanic ministers are doing their best, he said, but theres always room for improvement.
I have a great number of Hispanics in downtown Duluth who dont come to the church because they dont have transportation. So we need to reach out to these people. We need to let them know we care for them, that they are part of the church, he said.
There are many different things we can do to reach out to Hispanics, teaching ESL, providing information about immigration services, domestic issues. We have tremendous services at Catholic Social Services ... As we continue to grow in the Hispanic community every pastor, every parish will implement evangelization programs, outreach programs, sacramental, pastoral programs that will be beneficial for their communities.
Our Lady of the Americas Mission in Doraville is one example of ministry in action, he said, and a great place for people to come and relax and feel at home and be welcomed. The mission offers ministries including health care, a citizenship class and domestic violence counseling.
Gonzalo Saldaña, director of the archdiocesan Hispanic Apostolate, said the mission was established where Hispanics live. Other parishes may need to offer services out in their communities, he said. At the cathedrals mission in Lind-bergh, theyre trying to go where the people are because of the difficulty in transportation. Saldaña believes parishes must also focus on Hispanic youth, particularly from the second and third generations who reject their parents traditions, as gang violence is on the rise among them. And many Hispanic immigrants are single young men with plans to return to their homeland. He said door-to-door evangelization is one of the sharpest tools, as are small Christian communities. He finds Latinos hungry for Scripture. Saldaña also stressed outreach to the most vulnerable.
People integrate from a position of power. If you are powerless in society, when you dont even have documents to make an honest living, how are you going to integrate into the greater society? I think we need to do a lot of things to enable them to (integrate), he said. ... Hispanic ministry needs to be looked upon as an integral part of the church, not an appendix. The whole Catholic Church needs to respond to the diversity which is one body.
St. Josephs Church in Dalton has brought the Gospel since March to Latinos at Mexico Chiquito trailer park. Seminarian José Hernández Ayala rounded up a team of parishioners at the heavily Hispanic parish to initiate Our Lady of the Streets outreach after learning that Dalton has 30,000 Hispanics. At the trailer park, parishioners knocked on nearly 50 doors, making house calls about thrice weekly. Residents, many of whom are Catholic but unfamiliar with St. Joseph Church, received the parishioners warmly after word spread they were Catholic. With plans to minister in other locations, St. Joseph Church is now organizing an outdoor Mass at the trailer park.
What were doing is after the Mass well be calling them to see who needs what sacrament, the seminarian said. You have people living (here) four years or coming and going (after) six months. Its really unstable. Thats why you have to call them and follow up to see what services we can give.
If not given, Father Barona said, other Christian denominations will proselytize Catholic immigrants. A recent report of the U.S. Bishops Committee on Hispanic Affairs estimates that hundreds of thousands of Hispanics leave the church yearly, making this the worst defection in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States.
We have to reach out to the Hispanic community. We are counted as (nearly) 50 percent of the Catholic population in the diocese. And unfortunately, we are losing a lot of Catholics and the reason why is because we need to be more present. Theyre going to other churches simply because they cannot reach a Catholic Church, simply because they dont know where (the churches) are. They dont have transportation.
The other denominations are right at their doorsteps to provide them the services, the help they need ... In most churches we provide Mass in Spanish, sacraments and some kind of outreach program. But still the need is out there.
He said the plight of the undocumentados who represent the majority of Mexican and Central American immigrants is the greatest tragedy as they endure profound hardship. Having risked their lives to cross the border, some live shadowy lives often fearing police and deportation.
Our purpose is to reach out to Catholics. It doesnt matter whether you are illegal or have a green card or youll be deported ... They are our brothers and sisters in need.
They are coming to this country from these faraway countries. They have absolutely nothing. Obviously they are afraid. They are mistrusting because they dont know you, he said. ... The only contact (many of) the Anglos have literally with the Hispanics is when they come to backyards to do some kind of repairs for the house.
To make Hispanics feel welcomed in parishes involves diversity within integration, said Father Barona, noting that St. Benedicts has several bilingual Masses yearly in addition to Masses in Spanish only. Parishes can sensitize themselves to the traditions of the various nationalities regarding marriage, baptism, novenas, posadas and Our Lady of Guadalupe devotions. And as the archdioceses Hispanic ministries grow, that fabric will blend into Gods perfect design.
EVANGELIZERS -- (L-r) Father Fabio Sotelo Peña, parochial vicar at the
Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, and Sister Rosa Maria Ponce, RFR, greet
Martha Gomez and her nine-month-old cousin, Victor Guzman, at the Broadview
Terrace Apartments across from the Lindbergh Plaza Shopping Center. Father
Peña celebrates a Saturday vigil Mass at the apartments and Sister Ponce
coordinates a teen ministry.