Luis Alvarez grew up picking grapes in the San Joaquin Valley as a migrant worker; now, he’ll be picking souls in the Archdiocese of Denver.
Alvarez succeeds Luis Soto, who stepped down as the Archdiocese of Denver’s director of Hispanic Ministry and executive director of Centro San Juan Diego June 5. He intends to continue Soto’s work while bringing a new approach that he hopes will take the ministry in exciting new directions.
The second eldest of six siblings, Alvarez grew up in Fresno, Calif., where he and his family worked as migrant workers. His first memories are being surrounded by vineyards in the San Joaquin Valley picking grapes. It was a very humble beginning, Alvarez said.
His family later moved to central Mexico when he was in junior high. He learned Spanish while there, and in 1995, his family moved to Colorado Springs, where he’s lived for the past 20 years.
As a youth, Alvarez attended Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in the Springs. He met a seminarian who started a youth group with him and about a dozen other kids. After a time, the seminarian was transferred, and a new youth program was implemented by a member of Jovenes Para Cristo. With their leader gone, the first order of business was electing a new director for the youth group. An introvert with no experience leading people, Alvarez didn’t expect people to elect him.
“I was very shy at the time, [but] all of a sudden, people started voting for me, and I got elected by a landslide,” Alvarez said.
In spite of this, Alvarez was still reluctant. He didn’t feel he was a leader. However, a friend of his told him, “you are a leader, you just haven’t realized it yet.”
This sparked a long and fruitful path of ministry for him. Throughout it all, he discovered that he loved to teach and, moreover, was good at it.
“My forte, my passion, is teaching,” Alvarez said.
However, Alvarez also had a strong desire to learn.
“I always felt a calling and a hunger for studying the faith,” he said. “If we’re to love God above all things, we can’t really love that which we don’t know.”
Alvarez enrolled in Centro San Juan Diego (CSJD) in 2006. He obtained his bachelor’s degree over six years in a collaboration CSJD has with Universidad Anáhuac del Sur in Mexico City.
Now, Alvarez is now the executive director of CSJD, the very place which helped him get to where he is.
“In hindsight you see how beautiful God’s plan is,” he said. “It’s scary before the fact but then everything falls into place.”
Under Luis Soto’s direction, the Office of Hispanic Ministry and CSJD had already been recognized as one of the best in the country, Alvarez said, so there’s not a big urgency to revamp the whole system. He said his staff is great and they’ve been nothing but supportive to him as he begins this new endeavor. Some of them are even his classmates from CSJD.
“Our staff is a very good [and] humble people, but they’re also well-prepared and formed,” he said. “They really see it as a vocation [and] a calling, not just a job.”
They’re always trying to improve and read the current needs of the ministry, and Alvarez has goals to make the programs and services they offer even better and more encompassing.
One such initiative is to plant the seeds of faith very early in the lives of the youth.
“We’re going to have to take a proactive approach to make sure that our youth are taken care of,” he said. “Even though the youth may fall away in their 20’s or 30’s, eventually those seeds bear fruit and they come back to the church.”
Alvarez also has plans to launch a campaign in 2016 as part of the Year of Mercy in an effort to foster a culture of purity among Hispanics and encourage cohabitating couples to come forth and be right before the eyes of God, he said.
At the heart of all of this is a strong desire to be a ministry that serves its people, and though this can take many different forms, Alvarez opts for an approach that tailors the ministry to the person, and not the other way around.
“Being in sin is a focus on ‘me.’ Christianity is just the opposite of that. Christianity is a focus on the other,” Alvarez said. “A lot of times we have to recalibrate and make sure our eyes are on the other instead of being on ourselves. [This] permeates everything we do, and if we keep that in mind, our service will be exactly what the other person needs.”