Parish leaders get equipped to enrich growing Hispanic ministry

Archdiocese, Regis University partner for inaugural program

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.

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”