Inaugural Hispanic leadership meeting points to collaboration


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A vision for Hispanic ministry that has been taking shape for decades in the Jefferson City diocese reached an import Dec. 19.

That afternoon, 13 leaders and representatives of various Church-affiliated agencies in the diocese met in the Alphonse J. Schwartze Memorial Catholic Center in Jefferson City.

Almost every participant was a first- or second-generation immigrant from a Hispanic country.

Nations of origin included: Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and the United States.

Participants included:

  • Deacon Enrique Castro, diocesan executive director of faith formation, which includes Hispanic and intercultural ministries;
  • Erick Chinchilla, pastoral ministry assistant for the diocese;
  • Litz Main, executive director of Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri;
  • Ilsi Palacios, Hispanic resource coordinator for Catholic Charities;
  • Marissa Flores and Moises Sosa, DOJ accredited representatives for Catholic Charities Immigration Services;
  • Guillermo Villa Trueba, Hispanic Outreach Manager for the Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC);
  • Cristhia Castro, executive director of El Puente-Hispanic Ministry in Jefferson City and California;
  • Yasica Buitrago, Ashley Chavarria, Aurora Guillen, Nena Neal and Ariane Pizzol of the El Puente-Hispanic Ministry staff;

The entire meeting was conducted in Spanish.

Deacon Castro convened the group in the spirit of the new National Plan for Hispanic Ministry from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

His goal was to open up a dialogue regarding Hispanic Ministry in the diocese and opportunities for collaboration among the leaders in their various ministries. 

Mrs. Palacios said she recognized God making his presence known throughout the gathering.

“What stands out to me is the focus on collaboration and unity to work for those brothers and sisters who need us, and under our bishop’s leadership,” she said.

“God gave each of us different gifts and different resources,” she stated. “We’ll be able to do more if we work together.”

Ms. Main noticed the same dynamic.

“The gathering of leaders from various Catholic ministries has been a powerful testament to the strength that emerges when diverse voices come together for a common purpose,” she stated.

Uniting voices

Mr. Trueba joined the staff of the Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC), public-policy agency for the state’s four Roman Catholic dioceses, in October.

He’s helping ensure that the agency’s efforts to shape public policy, promote the common good, uphold the dignity of the human person and keep people informed about important issues including linguistically and culturally appropriate engagement with Hispanic Catholics.

He pointed out that many Hispanic Catholics don’t know about the MCC or its purpose.

“The result we’re hoping for is for Hispanic Catholics to be more integrated into the community at large, know the issues that are being discussed in the Capitol, and take action in order to defend the dignity of the life of the human person, in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church,” he stated.

He said it’s important for all Catholics to have their voices heard in the halls of power, “because we are standing for what our Lord Jesus Christ commanded us to do, which is to advance the common good.”

Looking for work

El Puente-Hispanic Ministry is a separate, nonprofit agency offering an array of services to the Hispanic communities primarily in and near Jefferson City and California.

It serves as a link between cultures and between immigrants and the communities they’re joining.

Much of Ms. Chavarria’s work for El Puente involves providing transportation and providing Spanish-English interpretation services for people who have not yet mastered English.

In that role, she gets many requests for information and services that are outside her area of expertise.

“I want to learn more about what to do for people who come here seeking asylum,” she said.

She found out that Catholic Charites has experts on immigration law in its Refugee Services and Immigration departments.

She also found out about classes she can take to help her become more familiar with immigration law.

“Thank God!” she said. “This is something I’ve been needing for a long time because I have a lot of people asking me questions on immigration that I can’t answer.”

She knows learning the answers will bring more work and more responsibility.

“That’s what we’re here for!” she said. “And you know, the busier I am, the more I can help, the happier I am.”

She’s convinced that God was present in the Hispanic leadership gathering and was pleased with its results.

“He’s the reason we were all here,” she said.

Recognizing barriers

Mrs. Guillen enjoyed connecting with people who are Hispanic, bilingual and interested in addressing many of the same issues.

She acknowledged her frustration at not being able to provide services that are available in bigger dioceses with larger Hispanic populations.

“But it’s going to happen,” she said. “It’s just a matter of time and work, and I think we’re on our way.”

She’s excited about various local agencies’ efforts to make people aware of their rights and ways of empowering themselves and advocating for their needs.

“A small group of people can only do so much, but when we come together, you’re in a whole other ballpark!” she said.

Limited resources are put to better use when organizations with similar goals stay in contact and point each other in the right direction, she stated.

Mrs. Guillen predicted that at future gatherings, participants will discuss specific ways to help people learn to be independent and get what they need for themselves and their families.

“Sometimes, when people come to our office, you can see their insecurities written all over them,” she said. “There are barriers of culture and language that may seem impossible for them to overcome, and you can see that in how they carry themselves.”

All the more so for people who dealt with violence or intimidation in their homeland and endured a difficult journey to get here.

“So they come with a lot of weight on their shoulders,” said Mrs. Guillen. “So, it’s important to let them know what they’re capable of in order to be independent, in order to feel empowered.”

It’s also essential to help people realize their own value and potential, she said.

“You can tell when people realize that ‘I contribute something to this society — ‘this is my community, I am part of this, it’s part of me now’ — you can see it, because they’re more confident,” she said.

She added that there’s no reason for people to feel unwelcome here, “because the community is very welcoming.”

Everyone has a different story. For some, the road here has been much more difficult than for others.

“But once they see that they’re an asset to the community, to society, it reflects on their face, on their demeaner,” she said. “And I want that so badly for all of them.”

A common voice

Mr. Trueba predicted that the Hispanic Catholics’ influence will become much more significant in the Statehouse as the MCC’s outreach efforts continue.

It began with making all of the MCC’s publications and podcasts bilingual.

“We have a lot of great publications,” he noted, “and it was a shame that they weren’t reaching out to all the Spanish-speaking Catholics in the state — Catholics and everyone else.”

Mr. Trueba previously worked for 10 years in the State Department, Social Development Department and Treasury Department of the Mexican federal government and as a legal history professor at a law school in Mexico.

He said MCC Executive Director Jamie Morris found universal support among the state’s Catholic bishops when he proposed creating the position of Hispanic outreach manager.

“So, I’m blessed to be able to join this great team, which is the whole Catholic Church in the state of Missouri,” Mr. Trueba stated.

Tighter bonds

Ms. Main has been executive director of Catholic Charities since September.

She said the meeting with fellow leaders of Catholic ministries was incredible.

The purpose, she sated, was “to address challenges, unite efforts, and present solutions aimed at serving the expanding Hispanic populations in the Diocese of Jefferson City.”

“As the leader of the charitable arm of the diocese, I am honored to represent my Hispanic heritage and contribute to the collaborative efforts that have taken place,” she said.

“The leaders brought forth innovative ideas, shared valuable insights, and demonstrated a genuine desire to make a positive difference,” she stated.

She pointed to the strong support of Bishop W. Shawn McKnight, “who wholeheartedly embraces the richness of diversity within our parishes.”

“His commitment to fostering an inclusive and supportive environment has been instrumental in creating a space where different perspectives are not only acknowledged but celebrated,” said Ms. Main.

She’s optimistic that this kind of collaboration will continue to have a positive impact on the Hispanic population in the diocese.

“By working together, we can more effectively address the needs of our community and provide meaningful solutions that enhance the overall wellbeing of our parishioners,” she said.

“Up to us”

The group set up two working committees — one focusing on immigration issues, another focusing on formation.

These committees will present their work to the group in a meeting on March.

“Immigration is a huge issue,” said Mrs. Guillen. “Everybody has questions, everybody wants to know, everybody obviously wants to be legal if they’re not.

“But sometimes, we don’t have the answers,” she noted. “Sometimes, even the immigration lawyers don’t have those answers.”

Meanwhile, the MCC and El Puente are both interested in educating Catholics on the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, beginning with the sacred God-given rights of every human person.

“So instead of both of these organizations doing it on their own, they can unite and have us here at the Chancery help them,” said Mr. Chinchilla.

“That’s why it’s so important for us to know each other and what we’re working on so we can help each other,” he stated.

“Along those same lines, we have a lot of the same goals, so why not unite forces instead of tackling these issues separately?” he said.

He also said that Catholic organizations are in a strong position to lead people to faith, “but we’re recognizing distinct barriers to that mission.”

“We have this great treasure, but for many reasons, including the situations some people were living in before they came here, people forget that the most important thing they possess is their faith,” Mr. Chinchilla stated.

“So it’s up to us to help make things accessible to people and form the leaders who can help us,” he said.

“Lord, hear our prayer”

The group plans to meet four times each year.

“It is our goal to find ways to serve more effectively our Hispanic brothers and sisters in light of our bishop’s vision for our diocese as good stewards of God’s gifts,” said Deacon Castro.

Mrs. Guillen suggested that as the Christmas Season spills over into another new year, people should pray for families, immigrants and “people who have to leave their families and face an unknown fate.”

Mr. Trueba suggested praying for the Church to be able to reach every single faithful person “and also people of goodwill who are not yet Catholic.”

Mrs. Palacios said to give thanks for one’s own family and security, and to pray for those who are suffering in war-torn places and for families that have been separated to be reunited.

Mr. Chinchilla suggested praying for unity and an end to barriers that are based on difference: “Just because someone has a different culture or language — ultimately, we’re Catholic and we have the same goal.”

Namely, to share the Gospel, live lives of virtue, and spend all eternity rejoicing together in God’s presence.

“We want to get to heaven together!” he said.