Q&A: Juan Carlos Reyes, new Director of Centro San Juan Diego, a product of its services

As Centro San Juan Diego (CSJD) celebrates its 15th anniversary, its new director Juan Carlos Reyes shared his goals and aspirations for the archdiocesan organization that serves hundreds of Hispanics in Colorado every year.

After the relocation of the Hispanic Ministry team from CSJD to the John Paul II Center earlier this year, Reyes talked about the way CSJD still follows the footsteps of Jesus by putting love into action, as it ministers to the Hispanic community.

Denver Catholic: What is Centro San Juan Diego (CSJD) and what key services does it provide for the Hispanic community in Denver?

Juan Carlos Reyes: CSJD is a ministry of the Archdiocese of Denver. It exists because the Church in northern Colorado, starting with Archbishops Chaput and Gomez and now Archbishop Aquila, deem it crucial to respond to the needs of immigrants in a way that is holistic and integral to the person, especially when a very large group arrives. It is important that a community feels welcome and is embraced with love and care.

As of March 2018, CSJD no longer houses the Hispanic Ministry team, which has been relocated to the John Paul II Center as part of the Evangelization and Family Life Ministry Office. Yet, it continues to be the place where most of the team’s activities occur.

CSJD accompanies and guides the community on its integration journey. On a more practical way, it provides adult education, resources and referrals. Some of those services include: GED, ESL and computer classes; citizenship/naturalization preparation; financial literacy programs; free legal clinics; tax counselor training programs; free tax aide; bachelor’s degrees programs valid in the U.S. and more.

We offer a place of trust not only because we are part of the Church, but most importantly because we have always treated the community with respect. To the best of our ability, we have always strived to offer high-quality programs.

DC: What does it mean for you to be the new director of CSJD?

Reyes: I, in many ways, consider myself to be a product of CSJD. By CSJD, I mean the Church actively reaching out to me. I started coming to CSJD for faith formation when I was a teen until I eventually received my formal education through CSJD. In 2009, CSJD launched a bachelor’s degree virtual program in Catholic Studies through a partnership with Anahuac University in Mexico City, a Catholic University. I was part of the first class. The goal of integration was accomplished by CSJD when the first class of nine students graduated from the program. More than half of us are working or have worked for the Church and all of us are serving the Church in one capacity or another.

CSJD not only told me that I was capable of doing great things for others and that I had potential to develop, but also gave me the tools and formation to be able to do it. CSJD gave me the opportunity to reimagine my life and to redefine it.

While I have been working at CSJD for five years, becoming the director takes things to a whole new level. Much I have received, much I must give back.

DC: What are your goals as CSJD reaches its 15th anniversary?

Reyes: It is my desire to help CSJD move forward, to continue its great legacy thus far and to make sure CSJD continues to be a place of hope and opportunity.

Concretely, I would like to decentralize or replicate some of the CSJD services at other locations in the Denver metro area but also, I would very much like to reach out to the communities outside of the Metro area, such as those in the mountains (western slope), and in the north and on the eastern plains.

The mission of CSJD is now is with the young and U.S.-born generation of Hispanics. Integration is a generational process in upper mobility, if you will, but quite frankly is much more than that.

 

The generation of U.S. born Hispanics are facing a number of “adversities,” many times unknown to them and to their parents, that make it near impossible for them to fully develop their potential and truly live out the American Dream of becoming or doing anything you set yourself to. I humbly believe that CSJD’s next chapter is to take a holistic approach to the family, to continue to help the parents as it has been for the past 15 years but now with the focus on the new generation.

 

DC: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Reyes: What CSJD is truly made of is a team, mostly made up of immigrants, that are passionate about carrying out the mission of the Church. While we do not explicitly preach the Gospel to anyone or in any way proselytize, we are often told by participants that they have in fact experienced the love and care of Mother Church through Centro.

We believe that immigrants are a gift to the Church and to society. We believe our participants have much to offer. What we see in them is potential and opportunity. We truly believe they can achieve unimaginable heights and we try to communicate that through all we do.

COMING UP: Swole.Catholic helps people strengthen body and soul

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St. Augustine once said, “Take care of your body as if you were going to live forever; and take care of your soul as if you were going to die tomorrow.”

Humans are both body and soul and both must be strengthened. This is the reason for the existence of Swole.Catholic, a group of people who dedicate themselves to nurturing their soul while strengthening their body, and through their ministry, motivate others to do the same.

According to Paul McDonald, founder of Swole.Catholic, they focus on encouraging faithful fitness. “We must take care of our temple of the Holy Spirit, because our bodies are one of God’s greatest gifts to us,” he said.

McDonald solidified the idea of faith and fitness when he was a sophomore in college. While “going through a huge moment in my life, at the same time I was really learning about the gym and learning ethical statements on my own. Both things clicked together,” he told the Denver Catholic. As a young guy, he started bible studies, and in those studies, he always had an analogy back to the gym.

He decided to make shirts for him and the guys in the bible study during his senior year. The shirts ended up becoming good conversation starters, and he decided he needed to do something with it — evangelize and motivate others to take care of their body and soul.

Thus Swole.Catholic was born. “Swole” is a slang term for bulking one’s muscles up from going to the gym, and of course, the Catholic part is self-explanatory — not only because of the Church but also for our faith and how it defines us in all we do. Swole.Catholic launched officially in Jan 2017.

The ministry consists of a website which provides resources to helps people with Catholic gyms, Catholic workouts, Catholic trainers, podcasts as well as workout wear.

The workout wear works as an evangelization tool. The word “Catholic” is printed on the front of the shirts and a bible verse is placed on the back.

“This raises questions or interest in others. It also works as a reminder of the purpose of the workout,” McDonald said. He added, “Most of the gyms we are going to have mirrors and all that, making you focus into yourself.” But the real purpose of the workout, as the members of Swole.Catholic say, is to strengthen your body and soul to live a healthy life.

Swole.Catholic also has rosary bands, a simple decade wrist band that people can wear while they workout and be flipped off at any time to pray a quick decade.

“Because everyone’s faith journey is different and everyone’s fitness journey is different, what we are trying to do is connect people with people [for them] to be able to have the correct support with their faith and fitness,” McDonald said.

That is why Swole.Catholic now has outposts around the country, with passionate Catholic members who love to help and inspire others in the fitness world while pursuing God in everything they do.

“Each one has its own flavor,” McDonald said. “In Florida we have a rosary run group where a bunch of girls meet up and pray rosary while they go for a run.” Among the outposts, there is also a group of guys in North Dakota who do a bible study and lift together. Similar to these two groups, members from other states have formed their own Catholic fitness groups and are now part of Swole.Catholic, including in Texas, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio and Wyoming and more.

“We encourage faithful fitness,” McDonald concluded. “We think your fitness fits in your faith as much as faith fits in your fitness. We are body and soul and we need to be building both.”

To join a group or a workout, visit swolecatholic.com or find them on Facebook.