This is the fourth story in a Denver Catholic Register series about archdiocesan ministries and programs funded by the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal. Read the series at www.DenverCatholicRegister.org.
“I was really surprised when I came to Centro (San Juan Diego),” admitted seminarian Nicholas Larkin, 24. “A whole new world really did open up.”
The seminarian from St. John Vianney Theological Seminary was struck by the vibrancy of the Hispanic family and youth ministries provided at Centro, the Archdiocese of Denver’s Hispanic institute for family and pastoral care.
Growing up, Larkin said the Hispanic community in his area often lived separately, so he was not exposed to some parts of Hispanic culture.
From June 2-27, Larkin and eight other seminarians studying at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary were selected to attend the first series of classes at Centro to learn about the ministries and culture of Hispanic communities.
Vocations director Father Jim Crisman is overseeing the program during which the same seminarians will visit Catholic Charities downtown in July to learn about its ministries that serve the poor.
Ministering to the statistically young and growing Hispanic population in Colorado is a priority for Archbishop Samuel Aquila who directed the start of the program this year.
Colorado has the eighth largest population of Hispanics in the nation with 1 million residing in the state, according to a Pew Research Center report in 2012.
The archdiocese has seen the impact of a growing number of Hispanics on churches: 54 parishes hold services in Spanish—up from eight parishes in 1997. Currently, 48 Hispanic priests and 27 Hispanic deacons work in the archdiocese, and a recent survey found that some 52 percent of all Catholics in northern Colorado are Hispanic, although not all are recent immigrants or Spanish-speaking.
Luis Soto, director of Centro, said the program was created to help seminarians know about its ministries and understand the needs and blessings of Hispanics in the Church. The archdiocese also has a need for priests who can minister effectively to Hispanics.
“They are in a formation process and the goal of all these years of seminary is to experience as much as they can and be the best priests they can be,” Soto said.“Hopefully, when they become priests, they will be better able to serve different communities.”
Classes gave an overview of each of its ministries led by the directors or leaders of each one. Juan Carlos Reyes Mendoza presented on Bienestar Family Services, Viviana Martinez spoke about natural family planning and Kalynn Webster spoke about Hispanic youth ministry.
The seminarians were also taken to experience Hispanic parishes and communities around the archdiocese. They attended a seminar held by immigration officials and participated in a naturalization ceremony.
The workshops also taught the seminarians about common devotions and expressions of the faith. Hispanic spirituality, such as devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, was highlighted. They also attended the Annual Charismatic Congress held in Castle Rock June 21 and learned about movements such as the Christian Family Movement.
The classes also helped inform the seminarians about the challenges facing Hispanic immigrants, such as integrating into American society.
Polish-native Mateusz Ratajczak, 25, said he better understood their struggles after the classes.
“I felt one with them. We have similar struggles,” said Ratajczak, who came to the United States from Poland in 2009.
Fellow seminarian Matt Magee, 25, said he’s always had respect for the Hispanic community, but this respect was only strengthened after the summer program: “My time there over the past month more than anything has strengthened that bond and that love for (Hispanics).”
Contact Centro San Juan Diego
Headquarters: 2830 Lawrence St., Denver
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Mail: 1300 S. Steele St., Denver, CO 80210
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Help Centro help Hispanics integrate
Throughout Centro San Juan Diego’s more than 10-year history, tens of thousands of Hispanic immigrants found their way to greater faith involvement and integration into society.
The Hispanic outreach and education center served some 30,000 families and individuals last year with branches of service that focus on faith and academic education, empowerment and leadership.
Every year, a portion of the 14 percent of donations designated for evangelization through the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal supports the staff’s effort to provide pastoral support and family assistance for Hispanics.
Since it was founded in 2003 by Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., and Auxiliary Bishop José Gomez, Centro has emphasized integration over assimilation for Hispanics living in America.
Luis Soto, executive director, told the Denver Catholic Register October 2013 that Latinos need to be reminded “we are who we are” and to be champions of that. Hispanics are to honor their own traditions and appreciate American society, he said.
One way their mission is expressed is through the Bienestar (Spanish for “well-being”) Family Services, which offers adult education and family support.
Regardless of a person’s religious, ethnic or economic background, the program provides services aimed at building and supporting the economic, social and educational status of residents in order to better integrate into society. Such aid includes achieving a high school certification, learning computer skills, learning English and preparing to apply for U.S. citizenship.
Centro also supports those seeking legal information and direction on available services for housing, employment and immigration.
The spiritual care of adults and youths is also key to its mission through the San Juan Diego Pastoral Institute, the pastoral services arm of Centro that develops faith-based education workshops and programs. Prisoners also receive care through its prison ministry.
Centro also aids those interested in becoming a part of the Charismatic Renewal Movement, which held its annual congress in Castle Rock in June.
New to Centro’s pastoral care is a natural family planning program to help Hispanic couples learn and use the Church’s approved method for achieving or avoiding pregnancy. Part of its care for women includes a new Gabriel House that offers help to pregnant women and mothers who lack resources to provide for their children.
In June, Centro expanded its services by hosting a new program for Denver seminarians, which taught them about Hispanic ministry and an awareness of the faith and the needs of the community from a priest’s perspective.
The Centro staff also works to raise funds for its outreach efforts through its annual gala held in the fall. Dedicated individuals and organizations to Centro and its Bienestar Family Services are honored during its annual Las Madrinas Tribute. Six were honored in May at the Denver Art Museum for personifying the spirit of “la madrina” (godmother).