Sister Alicia V. Cuarón Education Fund honors CSJD’s Family Services program

Denver Catholic Staff

In April 2018, Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA) and Boston College’s Center for Social Innovation identified Centro San Juan Diego as one of 64 “innovative and solutions-oriented ministries globally that are accompanying and aiding refugees and migrants.” For the Archdiocese of Denver, it is an honor for Centro to be recognized by such a prestigious donor organization on a global level for its programs that integrate Hispanics into society in the United States.

From 1990 to 2010, the Hispanic population in Colorado jumped from 13 percent to 21 percent and continues to grow. Responding to the influx of Hispanic immigrants in Denver and throughout northern Colorado, representatives from the Hispanic Office of the Archdiocese of Denver met in early 2003 with parish and community leaders to discuss the pastoral and social needs in the Hispanic community.  There were multiple needs identified, including spiritual and educational.

This year, Centro will witness a two-fold blessing. 2018 marks the 15th anniversary of Centro’s highly-applauded continuum of services to Hispanics, and coinciding with that, Centro is announcing the formation of the Sister Alicia V. Cuarón Education Fund. The fund is being established to honor the legacy of Sister Alicia V. Cuarón, founder of Centro San Juan Diego’s Family Services program, formerly known as Bienestar Family Services. Visualizing, implementing, developing and institutionalizing efforts to help immigrants transition into mainstream society has always been at the center of Sister Alicia’s mission.

In 1992, after a successful education and business career, Sister Alicia was called to religious life and entered the Sisters of Saint Francis of Penance and Christian Charity at Marycrest. She was one of the first Latinas in Colorado and in her family to earn a doctorate. Based on her upbringing as a first generation Mexican-American, Sister Alicia has focused on empowerment of immigrants and other Spanish-speaking individuals through leadership development, education and community services. Sister Alicia, whose parents migrated from Mexico in the 1920s, witnessed firsthand the struggles immigrants endure, especially regarding education.  “Nothing,” she says, “is more important than an education and knowing, with pride, your history, culture and heritage.”

Centro is Colorado’s leading resource center for education within the Hispanic community. Today, nearly 1.1 million Hispanics live in Colorado. More than 66 percent of Catholics within the Archdiocese of Denver are Hispanic, with 33 percent of all parishes celebrating Mass in Spanish. An example of how Centro is leading the way toward growing opportunities for the work force and successful integration is the existing online bachelor’s and master’s degree program offered through an international collaboration with a Mexican university, Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla (UPAEP). Centro’s adult education courses currently serve nearly 5,000 Hispanics annually.

Through their participation in various programs, former students have reached unimaginable heights in their careers, and Hispanic families have become communities of faith, hope and love through their involvement in educational and leadership classes. Given this astounding potential, the introduction of the Sister Alicia V. Cuarón Education Fund is most opportune. For as Sister Alicia recently asserted, “You will never realize the ripple effect of your gift.  When you help one person, you also help their family and their relatives; you ultimately improve the whole of American society.  For certain, the benefits of an education stay with you for life.”

Juan Carlos Reyes, Director of Centro, reaffirms Sister Alicia’s sentiments by stating, “It is my desire to help Centro move forward, to continue its great legacy thus far and to make sure Centro continues to be a place of hope and opportunity.  My personal goal is to build upon the foundation of success and accomplishments that was laid by Sister Alicia.”

As a former student, Reyes can attest to the difference Centro can make in the future of the Hispanic community in Colorado.

“Centro’s mission and work would not be possible without the support of generous donors who recognize that not only the Church, but all of us should invest in the Hispanic community,” he said.

Looking ahead, Centro remains committed to enriching many more lives. “Centro San Juan Diego has become an outstanding educational center in our country,” Sister Alicia said. “The dream would be to replicate the Centro model for other dioceses in the United States to improve more lives.”

As Director of Centro, one of Reyes’ goals is to extend the reach of services to where they are needed most, including the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains, “I am excited to continue this momentum and work with you to build a strong community where Hispanics can enjoy full participation.”

To donate to the Sister Alicia V. Cuarón Education Fund, visit centrosanjuandiego.org/donate or call 303-867-0614.

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.