Q&A: Juan Carlos Reyes, new Director of Centro San Juan Diego, a product of its services

As Centro San Juan Diego (CSJD) celebrates its 15th anniversary, its new director Juan Carlos Reyes shared his goals and aspirations for the archdiocesan organization that serves hundreds of Hispanics in Colorado every year.

After the relocation of the Hispanic Ministry team from CSJD to the John Paul II Center earlier this year, Reyes talked about the way CSJD still follows the footsteps of Jesus by putting love into action, as it ministers to the Hispanic community.

Denver Catholic: What is Centro San Juan Diego (CSJD) and what key services does it provide for the Hispanic community in Denver?

Juan Carlos Reyes: CSJD is a ministry of the Archdiocese of Denver. It exists because the Church in northern Colorado, starting with Archbishops Chaput and Gomez and now Archbishop Aquila, deem it crucial to respond to the needs of immigrants in a way that is holistic and integral to the person, especially when a very large group arrives. It is important that a community feels welcome and is embraced with love and care.

As of March 2018, CSJD no longer houses the Hispanic Ministry team, which has been relocated to the John Paul II Center as part of the Evangelization and Family Life Ministry Office. Yet, it continues to be the place where most of the team’s activities occur.

CSJD accompanies and guides the community on its integration journey. On a more practical way, it provides adult education, resources and referrals. Some of those services include: GED, ESL and computer classes; citizenship/naturalization preparation; financial literacy programs; free legal clinics; tax counselor training programs; free tax aide; bachelor’s degrees programs valid in the U.S. and more.

We offer a place of trust not only because we are part of the Church, but most importantly because we have always treated the community with respect. To the best of our ability, we have always strived to offer high-quality programs.

DC: What does it mean for you to be the new director of CSJD?

Reyes: I, in many ways, consider myself to be a product of CSJD. By CSJD, I mean the Church actively reaching out to me. I started coming to CSJD for faith formation when I was a teen until I eventually received my formal education through CSJD. In 2009, CSJD launched a bachelor’s degree virtual program in Catholic Studies through a partnership with Anahuac University in Mexico City, a Catholic University. I was part of the first class. The goal of integration was accomplished by CSJD when the first class of nine students graduated from the program. More than half of us are working or have worked for the Church and all of us are serving the Church in one capacity or another.

CSJD not only told me that I was capable of doing great things for others and that I had potential to develop, but also gave me the tools and formation to be able to do it. CSJD gave me the opportunity to reimagine my life and to redefine it.

While I have been working at CSJD for five years, becoming the director takes things to a whole new level. Much I have received, much I must give back.

DC: What are your goals as CSJD reaches its 15th anniversary?

Reyes: It is my desire to help CSJD move forward, to continue its great legacy thus far and to make sure CSJD continues to be a place of hope and opportunity.

Concretely, I would like to decentralize or replicate some of the CSJD services at other locations in the Denver metro area but also, I would very much like to reach out to the communities outside of the Metro area, such as those in the mountains (western slope), and in the north and on the eastern plains.

The mission of CSJD is now is with the young and U.S.-born generation of Hispanics. Integration is a generational process in upper mobility, if you will, but quite frankly is much more than that.

 

The generation of U.S. born Hispanics are facing a number of “adversities,” many times unknown to them and to their parents, that make it near impossible for them to fully develop their potential and truly live out the American Dream of becoming or doing anything you set yourself to. I humbly believe that CSJD’s next chapter is to take a holistic approach to the family, to continue to help the parents as it has been for the past 15 years but now with the focus on the new generation.

 

DC: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Reyes: What CSJD is truly made of is a team, mostly made up of immigrants, that are passionate about carrying out the mission of the Church. While we do not explicitly preach the Gospel to anyone or in any way proselytize, we are often told by participants that they have in fact experienced the love and care of Mother Church through Centro.

We believe that immigrants are a gift to the Church and to society. We believe our participants have much to offer. What we see in them is potential and opportunity. We truly believe they can achieve unimaginable heights and we try to communicate that through all we do.

COMING UP: Past 25 years remembered, next 25 anticipated at More Than You Realize conference

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

“Be not afraid!”

This was the rallying cry at the Aug. 11 More Than You Realize conference, echoing the very same call St. John Paul II gave exactly 25 years ago when he visited Denver for World Youth Day in 1993.

Over 5,000 faithful from across the Archdiocese of Denver filled the seats of the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland at what was the largest Catholic gathering in Colorado since WYD ’93. The all-day conference was presented in both English and Spanish tracks, featured a dynamic lineup of renowned Catholic speakers, and culminated in a powerful commissioning Mass.

The name More Than You Realize and consequently, the logo resembling an eyechart, stems from the idea that almost everything may appear a certain way at surface level, but upon closer inspection, it can be more than one realizes and seen in a different light. This is especially true when it comes to the Catholic Church.

Over 5,000 gathered at the Budweiser Events Center Aug. 11 for the More Than You Realize conference, which celebrated the last 25 years since World Youth Day in Denver and looked to the next 25. (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

In planning for nearly two years, pastors from each parish of the archdiocese hand-picked those parishioners and members of their community who they wished to attend the conference, which revolved around the idea of discipleship. Through engaging videos and talks given by speakers such as Chris Stefanick, Luis Soto and Dr. Edward Sri, attendees were invited to join a new movement of discipleship within the archdiocese, echoing the one sparked 25 years ago at World Youth Day.

“[I] had a great rejuvenating time at the More Than You Realize Conference,” said Alex Martinez, a parishioner at St. Pius X Parish. “I am excited to see the MTYR movement take shape.”

Brenda Garrett, a parishioner of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception said, “It was an amazing event, so blessed my pastor Father Ron from the Cathedral Basilica sent me. I am so proud to be part of this movement.”

The key to evangelization

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford spoke before Mass began about the impact of World Youth Day 1993 and the challenges the Church faces today.

“What does the summer of ’93 teach us about our present circumstances in 2018?” the cardinal asked. “The Holy Spirit was sent out in a special mission to our Church in 1993. The power of that sending was unexpected and disorienting to me as archbishop and to most others.”

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford speaks during the More Than You Realize conference. (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

But despite urban violence, threats of boycotts, organized protests and other issues prior to World Youth Day 1993, “a fundamental change took place in the Church of Denver,” said Cardinal Stafford, “but not only here — among the young people who came throughout the world, [and] even the Holy Father.

“Above all, our Church was transformed,” he said.

Cardinal Stafford said that to evangelize those who don’t know the Gospel, we first need “…a deep awareness of the delight of the Father taking in each of us as baptized men and women,” he said.

“I would urge you to think deeply and to pray deeply about realizing how delighted God is in you — each of you — because you are received by the Father as being [part of] the body of his Son, who is beloved.”

‘Jesus is much more than you realize’

In his homily given in both English and Spanish, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila also touched on what World Youth Day 1993 means for us today.

“The world likes to tell us many things about ourselves,” he said, “and not many of them today are good or uplifting. Just look at the distorted image of beauty that is prevalent today, let alone the distortions of what it means to be a human person…

“The devil is certainly having a field day in a world that has abandoned God, and even in some members of the Church who have a weak faith in Jesus,” he said.

But despite similar issues taking place in 1993, the pope brought to Denver a message of hope.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila celebrates the commissioning Mass that closed out the conference. (photo by Andrew Wright)

“When St. John Paul II spoke to the youth gathered for the prayer vigil on Saturday night at Cherry Creek State Park, he reminded them that God and a much bigger role for them to play in history,” said Archbishop Aquila.

That message is just as important today, within an archdiocese and Church that stand at a crossroads, the archbishop said.

“We have an opportunity to make a major impact for Jesus Christ, even as the surrounding culture is becoming less Christian.”

The pope opened the doors for those who attended to become greater disciples of Christ — not just directly after World Youth Day, but forever.

“St. John Paul II believed in retrospect that a revolution had taken place in Denver,” said the archbishop. “We, today, are the inheritors of this spiritual revolution, and we must not be afraid to put out into the deep to let our nets down for a catch.

“Jesus is much more than you realize. The Church is more than you realize. And your role in the plan of God is much more than you realize or [can] even imagine,” he said.

“And so, I beg you as your shepherd today to open your hearts to Jesus and speak heart-to-heart with him who loves you most.”

Aaron Lambert, Moira Cullings and Vladimir Mauricio-Perez contributed to this report.