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: Finding renewal in a grumbling stomach

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Finding renewal in a grumbling stomach

Lent and the art of fasting

Aaron Lambert

One interesting thing about liturgical seasons in the Church is that despite the fact they happen at roughly the same time every year, they still manage to sneak up on us.

Lent begins in just a few days, on Ash Wednesday, which falls on Feb. 26 this year. Never mind that most of us are probably just now fully recovered from the craziness of the Christmas season; it’s now time to enter what is arguably the most important season in the liturgical year. Oh, and we’re supposed to be extremely prayerful, reverent and intentional in how we approach Lent. Given all the other things happening in each of our lives, no big deal, right?

Don’t worry — you’re not alone in feeling just a bit overwhelmed at the thought. But let’s take it a step even further and add some icing to that cake in the form of fasting (no pun intended). Fasting is an ancient practice that pre-dates even Christianity and is common to nearly all religions of the world. In fact, the act of fasting is mentioned more times in the Bible than baptism. In recent times, much has been said about the physical benefits of fasting — weight loss, stronger immune system, more effective cell regeneration — but it’s important for us to remember that fasting is first and foremost a spiritual discipline, one that’s meant to spool the thread which connects us to our loving Creator.

Admittedly, the rules for fasting during Lent have loosened up over the centuries; it’s not a stretch to say that in the time of the apostles, fasting was a hardcore thing for disciples of Jesus Christ to do. You see, back then, fasting during Lent meant fasting for all 40 of those days leading up to the feast of Easter. While many of us may tremble at the thought of not eating anything of true sustenance for over five weeks, there is something to be said in the spirit of denying ourselves our usual pleasures during the Lenten season as a way to draw nearer to he who can provide true nourishment and satisfaction.

The act of fasting can help foster in us three characteristics that ultimately make Lent not only a penitential season, but also one of renewal.

Asceticism
The word “asceticism” comes from the Greek askesis, which means practice, bodily exercise and most especially athletic training. Essentially, it is the act of rigorous self-discipline and avoidance of overindulgence, with the aim of instilling in oneself a sense of self-control and virtue. In its most basic form, fasting is a type of asceticism; willingly denying ourselves the everyday comforts of life in an effort to unite our spirits more closely with that of Christ.

Of course, the practice of asceticism is counter-cultural in almost every way. We live in a world where our needs and desires are met on-demand, and to voluntarily abstain from one of these seems a preposterous proposition to the outsider. But it’s interesting, to bring back the Greek root of this word, to think of how the world’s best athletes implement this practice. Think of the intense training, strict dietary restrictions and long hours of work they put in the be the absolute best at what they do. Yes, it’s likely unbearably difficult at times, but they know deep down that their discomfort has a purpose.

Society tells us that suffering and discomfort are bad things to be avoided at all costs. But we as Christians look to the example of our Lord, who was willingly led to his death on Calvary, undertook unspeakable suffering and was made to feel like less than a man. Through his suffering mankind was redeemed, and because of his victory, we, too, can find redemption and renewal in our own trials. By practicing asceticism during Lent and giving up those things we find comfort in — sugar, Netflix, technology, or any other vice — we are not only reminded of the sacrifice Christ made for us, but we are strengthening the muscles of willpower and virtue that lead us closer to the Lord, and ultimately, true joy and peace.

Humility
“Humility is to the various virtues what the chain is in a rosary. Take away the chain and the beads are scattered; remove humility and all virtues vanish.”

St. John Vianney is quoted as saying this, and it’s a simple yet effective illustration of how all virtue flows from humility. To use a metaphor, if asceticism is what it is to, say, learn a new instrument, then humility is the marked improvement and mastery of that instrument over time.

By observing the Lenten fast, we are humbled rather quickly. Nothing makes us reflect on our own mortality and brokenness quite like the low grumble of a hungry stomach. And yet, by offering up this minute suffering during Lent and allowing the Lord to take it, it becomes apparent just how much we rely on him to not only provide the various provisions of our life, but also to provide meaning in our various sufferings. Mankind, for all its wonders and brilliance, cannot be sustained without the provisions of God.

From a more practical angle, there’s also no harm in fasting from food and technology to remind us of the many different walks of life people come from. It’s easy to take all the conveniences of our cozy lives for granted but Lent especially presents a great opportunity to remember those “least of us” who live in third-world countries, or even just down the street. Instead of buying two Big Macs for yourself for lunch, why not give one to the woman holding a sign at that intersection?

By maintaining a disposition of humility, we tap into the very core of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.

Freedom
So, through fasting, you have committed to a practice of asceticism for Lent, are reaping the benefits of staying humble, and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. Now what?

Ultimately, there is a profound freedom that comes from fasting. Father Richard Simon of Relevant Radio said in a May 2019 episode of his show Father Simon Says, “Fasting is an exercise in freedom. The purpose of it is to train your will to do God’s will. To train your will to obey the Lord. Freedom is the absolute requirement for the Christian life. Most people think that freedom is getting what they want, but they don’t understand that they don’t want what they want, it is their passions controlling them.

“It is their desires, their hungers, their preferences that want what they want when they want it,” he continued. “The self is not free. The self is subject to this sort of barrage off weakened human nature, but fasting is about freedom.”

True freedom, as defined by God, isn’t the ability to say “yes” to your own desires whenever you want — it is the discipline to say yes to the Lord’s desires for you. Therefore, as we go through the Lenten season and prepare ourselves for the celebration of Easter, we fast in remembrance of the perfect image of true freedom: Christ crucified on the Cross.

One of the lessons of the Lenten season is that we, too, are capable of achieving this freedom. By strengthening our will through the practice of fasting, we can grow in humility, from which all other virtue flows. In our humility, we find freedom to do the Lord’s will for our lives. And in that freedom, waiting with open arms, is the sweet renewal that our souls yearn for — renewal in the self-denying, humble and freely-given love of Christ.