Centro San Juan Diego has a new director: Alfonso Lara

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The Archdiocese of Denver announced Friday, May 31 the election of Alfonso Lara as the new Director of Centro San Juan Diego.

“I am very happy because I will return to CSJD where I worked for more than 11 years,” Lara told the Denver Catholic. “I will continue to serve the Hispanic community in the same way. I had the pleasure of being present at CSJD since before its dedication, before the building’s renovation, in the year 2002, at the beginning of this dream.”

Lara has served as the Director of Hispanic Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Denver for over a year and will transfer to CSJD in the next two weeks. He is married and has two children. Originally from Obregon, Sonora, Mex., he studied in the diocesan seminary at his birth city in the 90s and moved to the United States in 1999 after discerning his call to marriage. He began working at Annunciation Parish in Denver as director of religious education and youth minister. Before the foundation of CSJD, he was invited by then-Archbishop of Denver Charles Chaput and his assistant bishop Jose Gomez, to form part of the discussion committee for this project.

He began working for the Archdiocese of Denver in 2005 and served at CSJD from 2007-2018 as Director of Pastoral Services. In March 2018, he was named Director of Hispanic Evangelization and transferred to the St. John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization.

Lara will take the place of Juan Carlos Reyes, who passed away March 20. “Juan Carlos was a close friend and very dear to me because I had the opportunity to meet him since he was very young. He did an excellent job during his time at Centro,” Lara said.

He also assured that in his new position, he would like to “continue to research new human development programs; help people in their spiritual and academic needs by treating the person as a whole; assist those who want to become professionals; continue to provide educational programs for adults; direct people to the right resources; all with the goal of helping the person reach their maximum potential, not only in the social realm, but also in the political, economic spheres and in their relationship with God.”

Lara said he hopes his position will soon be replaced by the archdiocese and that “[in CSJD] we will continue to support the needs of this ministry.”

Lastly, the newly elected director of CSJD asked for prayers for this ministry. “I have the pleasure to say that I am going to work with a great group of people, and I trust in divine providence and in the prayers of the people of God. This is a ministry of the Archdiocese of Denver and I am an extension of the Archbishop Aquila’s ministry. When I serve, I do it in name of the Church and not my own,” he said.

CSJD is a ministry within the Archdiocese of Denver that seeks to provide support for the immigrant community by providing courses in English, computer science, free legal assistance, financial education and trainings for small business owners. It also offers college degrees in Spanish, which are valid in the United States, through an agreement with Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla UPAEP.

COMING UP: Church and state partner to carry out corporal works of mercy during pandemic and beyond

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In times of great need and crisis, we find strength in unity and collaboration, and amid the coronavirus pandemic, this truth remains within the Archdiocese of Denver.

For many years, the Archdiocese of Denver and local Colorado government officials have found ways to work together toward common goals and better serve the people of Colorado, which often includes carrying out corporal works of mercy such as feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. And through the COVID-19 pandemic, these partnerships continue to be a crucial part of Colorado’s and the Church’s response to those in need.

The City of Denver and the Archdiocese of Denver have a history of partnering to support people in need. During the pandemic, Mayor Michael B. Hancock and his administration have worked with the archdiocese to safeguard the homeless population and extend testing for COVID-19 to communities at higher risk of struggling with the virus.

“These types of true collaborative relationships really make the difference because you can call on your partners [and] you have established relationships that are built on trust and built on true engagement and true focus on a mutually agreed upon mission,” Mayor Hancock told the Denver Catholic. “Catholic Charities and the archdiocese have been just tremendous partners over the years with us.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver told the Denver Catholic that “the Catholic Church is motivated to care for the poor and needy by Christ’s commandment to love one another as he loved us.

“The coronavirus pandemic,” he added, “has highlighted this important work and underscored the essential role the Catholic Church plays in fostering a society that upholds the God-given dignity of every person.

“It has been a blessing to be able to work with the City of Denver over many years to serve these vulnerable populations.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and the Archdiocese of Denver have partnered with Mayor Michael Hancock and the City of Denver in the past to better serve people in need, and they’ve continued those collaborative efforts through the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Catholic Charities)

Recently, on July 10 and July 23, Mayor Hancock and the City of Denver hosted events in partnership with Ascension Catholic Parish in Montbello to provide testing for COVID-19 and a mobile food pantry to the local community.

“We have been looking for opportunities to be in the communities, to do the testing, to meet people where they are. And we recognize that Latinos and African-Americans in particular have been most vulnerable to this virus,” Mayor Hancock said. “We needed to really just make sure we took the opportunities for testing to those communities.”

Then, on Aug. 6, Ascension hosted another event in collaboration with the City of Denver where the mayor’s office gave away free backpacks with school supplies, healthy food baskets, baby products, feminine hygiene products and more.

“I am very thankful for Mayor Hancock’s collaboration to help the people of Montbello,” said Father Dan Norick, pastor of Ascension Parish. “I also thank God for the people in Montbello who are caring for each other in these difficult times. May Jesus be praised!”

Mayor Hancock said that hosting these events at Ascension Parish made sense because of the established relationship the City of Denver and the Archdiocese of Denver have developed over the years.

“When you’re looking for who you partner with during these opportunities, you turn to who’s most familiar with you and who you’ve had a trusting collaboration with,” he said. “And it just so happens the archdiocese and the parish there have been the ones that we’ve worked with over the years. So it was very natural. It’s a place where people are familiar and a place they trust.”

It’s not only during the pandemic that this partnership has been fruitful, though. A strong partnership between Samaritan House and the city has existed for quite some time, and this relationship has borne much fruit over the years. Samaritan House strives to be more than a just a homeless shelter, providing education, life skills classes and one-on-one support for its residents to empower them to break free from the cycle of poverty and support themselves independently.

In August 2017, the City of Denver and Catholic Charities of Denver cut the ribbon on the first all-women’s shelter in the city. Called Samaritan House Women’s Shelter, it follows Samaritan House’s established model of helping those experiencing hard times find a way out of poverty and ultimately, bring hope to their lives. Each night, it offers 225 beds for women who are in need of immediate shelter.

Back in April, Catholic Charities teamed up with the City of Denver and took the lead on an auxiliary women’s shelter set up at the Denver Coliseum. (Photo by Catholic Charities)

Back in April, in response to the pandemic and out of a need to maintain social distancing protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the City of Denver and Catholic Charities of Denver partnered to set up the Denver Coliseum as a 24/7 auxiliary emergency women’s shelter that’s that was able to accommodate up to 300 women. Catholic Charities staff took the lead at the shelter with full support from the City of Denver. The auxiliary shelter has since returned to the regular women’s shelter facility, but this collaboration between the city and Catholic Charities was crucial as cases of COVID-19 climbed in April.

“When the pandemic hit, Catholic Charities had to find a way to social distance the ladies in its Women’s Emergency Shelter,” said Mike Sinnett, Vice President of Shelters and Community Outreach. “We also had to provide them 24/7 care to honor the governor’s Stay-at-Home order and triage for the virus. Working with the City of Denver staff, we came together as a shelter community and obtained the use of the Denver Coliseum downtown. We were able to better provide social distancing, 24/7 shelter with three meals a day and other amenities, including showers and case management.

“We believe this effort with the city protected our most vulnerable community and helped prevent the spread of the virus. But more importantly, we made it safer for women experiencing homelessness during this pandemic.”

Featured image: Father Dan Norick hands out supplies during a community giveaway event hosted at Ascension Catholic Parish in Montbello in conjunction with the City of Denver. (Photo provided)