Cynthia Castillo, director of religious education at Holy Rosary Parish, has slowly built up trust with the Hispanic community and is proud that many of her students have received the sacraments of holy Communion and confirmation.
The north Denver church, founded by Slavic immigrants, is a small parish in an industrial area and establishing a Hispanic ministry has been a challenge, she said.
Her goal is to grow the Hispanic ministry and that’s one reason Castillo and 18 other parish leaders—including three from out of state—attended the first Catholic Hispanic Leadership Program at Regis University. For 10 days through July 31, the group immersed themselves in numerous subjects, including finance, nonprofit management and decision making.
“I see this as a great opportunity to expand my knowledge of Hispanic ministry,” Castillo told the Denver Catholic Register. “As leaders, we have a great responsibility for training.”
The goal of the program, co-sponsored by the Archdiocese of Denver, is to help Hispanic ministry members, many who are volunteers, to better serve their communities.
“The leadership program is a way to help people serving at the parish level,” said Luis Soto, director of Centro San Juan Diego, the Hispanic ministry center for the archdiocese. “The people participating are saying they want to do more; they want to learn more. They are hungry to learn.”
The inaugural year attracted participants primarily from parishes in the archdiocese, but the group also included a priest from Kansas City, a nun from Baltimore and a lay ministry leader from Pennsylvania. A majority of the participants themselves have emigrated from Mexico, Peru, Chile and the Dominican Republic.
“As immigrants, we grew up in Latin America experiencing the Catholic Church there and it is different from the American Catholic Church,” Soto said. “I had to learn those differences firsthand because no one told me.”
Soto wanted the group to better understand the history of immigration in the United States and how many groups—including the Irish—faced discrimination because they came in large numbers. He tapped Nicki Gonzales, associate professor of history and politics at Regis, to lead the discussion.
“To understand the current situation, I think it is important to understand the historic situation,” Gonzales told El Pueblo Catolico following the session.
That understanding will help bridge cultural gaps and educate society about the positive impacts of immigration, Gonzales said.
“One of the things that makes America very strong, culturally, is that we are a mix of different cultures and there is this diversity of voice and experience and food and history that I think makes us all stronger,” she said.
Gonzales was impressed by the program participants’ “energy, enthusiasm and sincerity.”
Regis worked with the archdiocese for about 18 months to make the leadership program a reality, said Tom Reynolds, university vice president for Mission and Ministry. He added that Regis has learned more about the Catholic Hispanic culture through its work with nearby Arrupe Jesuit High School, which has a high Hispanic enrollment.
In the Americas, he said, regionalism plays a role in how people worship, noting there are different traditions in Mexico, Central America and South America.
“Hispanics have an important role in the Catholic Church and the future of the Church,” he told program participants, welcoming them after the opening Mass on July 22. “We are honored and blessed to have you here.”
One program session explained how Hispanic ministries can improve fundraising. Many Hispanic parishioners will readily volunteer for manual labor, such as replacing a church’s roof, but giving monetary contributions is often unfamiliar to immigrants who came from poor countries, Soto said.
“Parishes don’t need to continue to make 1,000 tamales (for fundraisers) when there are many other ways to make money,” Soto said.
Martha Jones, a Hispanic ministry leader at St. Pius X Parish in Aurora, said she looks forward to hearing experts give tips on helping her ministry grow.
“We can help our community if we better understand techniques for budgeting, fundraisers and other topics,” she said.