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: Local artists choose life in pro-life art show

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For someone who’s always been in love with art, it’s not surprising that Brett Lempe first encountered God through beauty. Lempe, a 25-year-old Colorado native, used his talent for art and new-found love of God to create a specifically pro-life art show after a planned show was cancelled because of Lempe’s pro-life views.

Lempe was “dried out with earthly things,” he said. “I was desperately craving God.”

Three years ago, while living in St. Louis, Mo., Lempe google searched for a church to visit and ended up at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.

“I was captivated by the beauty of the 40 million mosaic tiles,” he said.

Lempe is not exaggerating. This Cathedral is home to 41.5 million tiles that make up different mosaics around the sanctuary. Witnessing the beauty of this church is what sparked his conversion, he said, and was his first major attraction towards Catholicism.

Lempe continued on to become Catholic, then quit his job several months after joining the Church to dedicate himself completely to art. Most of his work post-conversion is religious art.

Lempe planned to display a non-religious body of artwork at a venue for a month when his contact at the venue saw some of Lempe’s pro-life posts on Facebook. Although none of the artwork Lempe planned to display was explicitly pro-life or religious, the venue cancelled the show.

“I was a little bit shocked at first,” he said. “Something like me being against abortion or being pro-life would get a whole art show cancelled.”

Lempe decided to counter with his own art show, one that would be explicitly pro-life.

On Sept. 7, seven Catholic artists displayed work that gave life at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Denver.

“Catholicism lends itself to being life-giving,” Lempe said.

The show included a variety of work from traditional sacred art, icons, landscapes, to even dresses.

Students for Life co-hosted the event, and 10 percent of proceeds benefited the cause. Lauren Castillo, Development director and faith-based program director at Students for Life America gave the keynote presentation.

Castillo spoke about the need to be the one pro-life person in each circle of influence, with coworkers, neighbors, family, or friends. The reality of how many post-abortive women are already in our circles is big, she said.

“Your friend circle will get smaller,” Castillo said. “If one life is saved, it’s worth it.”

Pro-Life Across Mediums

Brett Lempe’s Luke 1:35

“This painting is the first half at an attempt of displaying the intensity and mystical elements of Luke 1:35,” Lempe said. “This work is influenced somewhat by Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’ painting as I try to capture the moment when the “New Adam” is conceived by Our Blessed Mother.”

Claire Woodbury’s icon of Christ Pantokrator

“I was having a difficult time making that icon,” she said. “I was thinking it would become a disaster.”

She felt Jesus saying to her, “This is your way of comforting me. Is that not important?”

“Icons are very important to me,” she said. “I guess they’re important to Him too.”

Katherine Muser’s “Goodnight Kisses”

“Kids naturally recognize the beauty of a baby and they just cherish it,” Muser said of her drawing of her and her sister as children.

Brie Shulze’s Annunciation

“There is so much to unpack in the Annunciation,” Schulze said. “I wanted to unpack that life-giving yes that our Blessed Mother made on behalf of all humanity.”

“Her yes to uncertainty, to sacrifice, to isolation, to public shame and to every other suffering that she would endure is what allowed us to inherit eternal life.”

“Her fiat was not made in full knowledge of all that would happen, but in love and total surrender to the will of God.”

All photos by Makena Clawson