Thirteen couples confess their love before God

Centro San Juan Diego hosts special initiative for the Year of Mercy

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A special celebration of the Sacrament of Matrimony was held Aug. 13 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, in a ceremony presided by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila. The participants were 13 Hispanic couples who had the opportunity to bless their union before God. The ceremony was a Year of Mercy initiative hosted by Centro San Juan Diego (CSJD).

Some of these couples had lived together for over 30 years. That was Marisela Arreola and Susano Izaguirres’ case. For these Saint Cajetan’s parishioners, attending mass and not being able to receive communion with their kids was difficult, they said.

“I’m super excited, it was a blessing from God. It’s something inexplicable,” Arreola said.

As for Izaguirres, his happiness is immense after finally marrying his partner of 30 years.

“I am very grateful to God and how it all happened,” he said.

DENVER, CO, AUGUST 13, 2016: Archbishop Aquila congratulates Salvador Bonilla and Viviana Delgado during the Couples Convalidation Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. (Photo by Gabriella Miller/Denver Catholic)

Archbishop Aquila congratulates Salvador Bonilla and Viviana Delgado during the Couples Convalidation Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. (Photo by Gabriella Miller/Denver Catholic)

After the couple heard about the CSJD initiative, Izaguirres called to register, but unfortunately, he said “registration was closed. “

“When I got home I told my wife, I felt very sad, but then she surprised me by telling me that she had called earlier and she got us registered.”

The initiative was presented a year ago when CSJD’s director, Luis Alvarez, assumed his position. Alvarez observed with great concern that at Spanish Masses, many people refrain from receiving Communion. One of the main reasons is that many of them have not been blessed by holy matrimony.

Alvarez saw an opportunity in this Year of Mercy—celebrated by the Church and proposed by Pope Francis—to talk to priests in the Metropolitan area and ask them to participate in this initiative by motivating parishioners to receive this sacrament.

Words form the newlyweds

“Getting married by the Church was wonderful after living together for so long,” said Mario Vega, parishioner at Saint Catherine of Sienna parish. He married his partner Maria after 17 years of living together. “Receiving the blessing of God is something that fills us with the spirit and joy…that, and feeling free of living in sin.”

Erika and Juan Carrillo had been living together for 15 years and have two kids. “The premarital classes were excellent. I thought I knew a lot about marriage after living together for so long, but then I realized I knew almost nothing. We learned a lot on how to live an even better marriage,” said Erika.

“The felling is inexplicable!” said Ivan Ariel, a Saint Anthony of Padua parishioner and a father of three, who married his wife Virna Lisi after living together for 20 years. “We are a Catholic family and this is a greater step to be closer to God,” he stated.

DENVER, CO, AUGUST 13, 2016: Couples Convalidation Mass was celebrated Sunday by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. (Photo by Gabriella Miller/Denver Catholic)

Thirteen couples were married at the Convalidation Mass Aug. 13, celebrated by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. (Photo by Gabriella Miller/Denver Catholic)

“We are flattered to have this blessing, not everyone has this opportunity,” said Salvador Bonilla, another participant.

After the ceremony, Juan Carlos Reyes, director of family services at CSJD expressed his joy at the occasion.

“I am very happy and I feel satisfied,” Reyes said. Reyes was responsible for leading this initiative with a team of trainers and facilitators. “It is very beautiful to see the happiness of couples and the testimony they gave their children and grandchildren.

“This has also begun to change the extended family (grandparents, grandchildren, uncles, nephews, etc.) too because of the example given by the newlyweds. This is an initiative that touches hearts, and hopefully more couples feel motivated to participate,” Reyes added.

Featured photo by Gabriella Miller. Mavi Barraza contributed to this report.

COMING UP: Luis Alvarez sows seeds for Hispanic ministry

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Luis Alvarez grew up picking grapes in the San Joaquin Valley as a migrant worker; now, he’ll be picking souls in the Archdiocese of Denver.

Alvarez succeeds Luis Soto, who stepped down as the Archdiocese of Denver’s director of Hispanic Ministry and executive director of Centro San Juan Diego June 5. He intends to continue Soto’s work while bringing a new approach that he hopes will take the ministry in exciting new directions.

The second eldest of six siblings, Alvarez grew up in Fresno, Calif., where he and his family worked as migrant workers. His first memories are being surrounded by vineyards in the San Joaquin Valley picking grapes. It was a very humble beginning, Alvarez said.

His family later moved to central Mexico when he was in junior high. He learned Spanish while there, and in 1995, his family moved to Colorado Springs, where he’s lived for the past 20 years.

As a youth, Alvarez attended Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in the Springs. He met a seminarian who started a youth group with him and about a dozen other kids. After a time, the seminarian was transferred, and a new youth program was implemented by a member of Jovenes Para Cristo. With their leader gone, the first order of business was electing a new director for the youth group. An introvert with no experience leading people, Alvarez didn’t expect people to elect him.

“I was very shy at the time, [but] all of a sudden, people started voting for me, and I got elected by a landslide,” Alvarez said.

In spite of this, Alvarez was still reluctant. He didn’t feel he was a leader. However, a friend of his told him, “you are a leader, you just haven’t realized it yet.”

This sparked a long and fruitful path of ministry for him. Throughout it all, he discovered that he loved to teach and, moreover, was good at it.

“My forte, my passion, is teaching,” Alvarez said.

However, Alvarez also had a strong desire to learn.

“I always felt a calling and a hunger for studying the faith,” he said. “If we’re to love God above all things, we can’t really love that which we don’t know.”

Alvarez enrolled in Centro San Juan Diego (CSJD) in 2006. He obtained his bachelor’s degree over six years in a collaboration CSJD has with Universidad Anáhuac del Sur in Mexico City.

Now, Alvarez is now the executive director of CSJD, the very place which helped him get to where he is.

“In hindsight you see how beautiful God’s plan is,” he said. “It’s scary before the fact but then everything falls into place.”

Under Luis Soto’s direction, the Office of Hispanic Ministry and CSJD had already been recognized as one of the best in the country, Alvarez said, so there’s not a big urgency to revamp the whole system. He said his staff is great and they’ve been nothing but supportive to him as he begins this new endeavor. Some of them are even his classmates from CSJD.

“Our staff is a very good [and] humble people, but they’re also well-prepared and formed,” he said. “They really see it as a vocation [and] a calling, not just a job.”

They’re always trying to improve and read the current needs of the ministry, and Alvarez has goals to make the programs and services they offer even better and more encompassing.

One such initiative is to plant the seeds of faith very early in the lives of the youth.

“We’re going to have to take a proactive approach to make sure that our youth are taken care of,” he said. “Even though the youth may fall away in their 20’s or 30’s, eventually those seeds bear fruit and they come back to the church.”

Alvarez also has plans to launch a campaign in 2016 as part of the Year of Mercy in an effort to foster a culture of purity among Hispanics and encourage cohabitating couples to come forth and be right before the eyes of God, he said.

At the heart of all of this is a strong desire to be a ministry that serves its people, and though this can take many different forms, Alvarez opts for an approach that tailors the ministry to the person, and not the other way around.

“Being in sin is a focus on ‘me.’ Christianity is just the opposite of that. Christianity is a focus on the other,” Alvarez said. “A lot of times we have to recalibrate and make sure our eyes are on the other instead of being on ourselves. [This] permeates everything we do, and if we keep that in mind, our service will be exactly what the other person needs.”