Young adult event seeks to bridge English and Spanish-speaking communities

Makena Clawson

More than half of the Archdiocese of Denver is Hispanic, but the reality is that many young adult Catholic events in Denver do not reflect this statistic.

A committee of representatives led by Mary McGeehan and Alejandra Bravo of the Archdiocese of Denver’s Office of Evangelization wanted to bridge this gap and host a young adult event where the English and Spanish-speaking communities both felt welcome.

On Sunday, Oct. 20, Bishop Jorge H. Rodriguez celebrated a bilingual Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception with a time of adoration and confessions before, followed by a time of food, fellowship and salsa dancing.

Both the pews and the dance floor were full. The event was well attended by both communities and was a start at bridging this gap and making each community more aware of the other.

“I hope that young adults see the Church more holistically and greater than what they just see at their own parish,” said Mary McGeehan, Young Adult Ministry Specialist at the Archdiocese of Denver.

Bishop Jorge H. Rodriguez celebrated a young adult Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on October 20, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

Although the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking young adults may have different strengths and weaknesses, they have a lot in common, McGeehan said.

“Young adults don’t like anything forced,” she said. So, the committee tried to create an event that was an organic and natural way to build community.

“Dancing and sharing a meal and prayer can go beyond the nuances of language,” McGeehan said.

“Our needs are often more similar,” she said. “We want to feel welcomed, we want community, we want to be invited into leadership.”

Each community possesses strengths that the other can learn from, like the Spanish-speaking community’s emphasis on family values, having a relational mentality, and being generous in giving of their time, McGeehan said.

The English-speaking crowd possesses strengths of being creative in evangelization, McGeehan and Bravo agreed. Apostolates like Catholic Young Adult Sports, Young Catholic Professionals, Catholic Beer Club and more are fruits of the community placing their resources in service of the Church for evangelization, they said.

Alejandra Bravo, the Associate Director of Hispanic Evangelization for the Archdiocese, was pleased with the fruits of the event.

“Yesterday we were able to see beyond differences and see more similarities,” she said. “We’re all young adults and we’re all one Church.”

Many of the Hispanic young adults Bravo works with are bilingual, but some have recently come from Latin America to study and then return to their home country. McGeehan and Bravo wanted the Mass to include both Spanish and English so that both communities felt welcome.

“The Hispanic community is all about relationships,” Bravo said. “They need to feel part of the Church, part of the community.”

The Mass was followed by a time of fellowship and salsa dancing. The event was meant to help bridge the English- and Spanish-speaking young adult communities in Denver. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

Once these relationships are formed, she said, they bring the whole family to events.

David Cardoza-Rodriguez, a young adult from Annunciation parish, was part of the committee that helped Bravo and McGeehan plan the event. He was pleased with how well attended the event was and saw both communities engaging with each other.

One of the needs the Hispanic community faces is “seeing other Spanish-speaking people who are giving their life to God,” he said. This event gave both communities the opportunity to see other young adults doing just that.

Bravo hopes to continue planning “similar events to this one, to bring all of the young adults together,” she said.

COMING UP: Church and state partner to carry out corporal works of mercy during pandemic and beyond

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In times of great need and crisis, we find strength in unity and collaboration, and amid the coronavirus pandemic, this truth remains within the Archdiocese of Denver.

For many years, the Archdiocese of Denver and local Colorado government officials have found ways to work together toward common goals and better serve the people of Colorado, which often includes carrying out corporal works of mercy such as feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. And through the COVID-19 pandemic, these partnerships continue to be a crucial part of Colorado’s and the Church’s response to those in need.

The City of Denver and the Archdiocese of Denver have a history of partnering to support people in need. During the pandemic, Mayor Michael B. Hancock and his administration have worked with the archdiocese to safeguard the homeless population and extend testing for COVID-19 to communities at higher risk of struggling with the virus.

“These types of true collaborative relationships really make the difference because you can call on your partners [and] you have established relationships that are built on trust and built on true engagement and true focus on a mutually agreed upon mission,” Mayor Hancock told the Denver Catholic. “Catholic Charities and the archdiocese have been just tremendous partners over the years with us.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver told the Denver Catholic that “the Catholic Church is motivated to care for the poor and needy by Christ’s commandment to love one another as he loved us.

“The coronavirus pandemic,” he added, “has highlighted this important work and underscored the essential role the Catholic Church plays in fostering a society that upholds the God-given dignity of every person.

“It has been a blessing to be able to work with the City of Denver over many years to serve these vulnerable populations.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and the Archdiocese of Denver have partnered with Mayor Michael Hancock and the City of Denver in the past to better serve people in need, and they’ve continued those collaborative efforts through the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Catholic Charities)

Recently, on July 10 and July 23, Mayor Hancock and the City of Denver hosted events in partnership with Ascension Catholic Parish in Montbello to provide testing for COVID-19 and a mobile food pantry to the local community.

“We have been looking for opportunities to be in the communities, to do the testing, to meet people where they are. And we recognize that Latinos and African-Americans in particular have been most vulnerable to this virus,” Mayor Hancock said. “We needed to really just make sure we took the opportunities for testing to those communities.”

Then, on Aug. 6, Ascension hosted another event in collaboration with the City of Denver where the mayor’s office gave away free backpacks with school supplies, healthy food baskets, baby products, feminine hygiene products and more.

“I am very thankful for Mayor Hancock’s collaboration to help the people of Montbello,” said Father Dan Norick, pastor of Ascension Parish. “I also thank God for the people in Montbello who are caring for each other in these difficult times. May Jesus be praised!”

Mayor Hancock said that hosting these events at Ascension Parish made sense because of the established relationship the City of Denver and the Archdiocese of Denver have developed over the years.

“When you’re looking for who you partner with during these opportunities, you turn to who’s most familiar with you and who you’ve had a trusting collaboration with,” he said. “And it just so happens the archdiocese and the parish there have been the ones that we’ve worked with over the years. So it was very natural. It’s a place where people are familiar and a place they trust.”

It’s not only during the pandemic that this partnership has been fruitful, though. A strong partnership between Samaritan House and the city has existed for quite some time, and this relationship has borne much fruit over the years. Samaritan House strives to be more than a just a homeless shelter, providing education, life skills classes and one-on-one support for its residents to empower them to break free from the cycle of poverty and support themselves independently.

In August 2017, the City of Denver and Catholic Charities of Denver cut the ribbon on the first all-women’s shelter in the city. Called Samaritan House Women’s Shelter, it follows Samaritan House’s established model of helping those experiencing hard times find a way out of poverty and ultimately, bring hope to their lives. Each night, it offers 225 beds for women who are in need of immediate shelter.

Back in April, Catholic Charities teamed up with the City of Denver and took the lead on an auxiliary women’s shelter set up at the Denver Coliseum. (Photo by Catholic Charities)

Back in April, in response to the pandemic and out of a need to maintain social distancing protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the City of Denver and Catholic Charities of Denver partnered to set up the Denver Coliseum as a 24/7 auxiliary emergency women’s shelter that’s that was able to accommodate up to 300 women. Catholic Charities staff took the lead at the shelter with full support from the City of Denver. The auxiliary shelter has since returned to the regular women’s shelter facility, but this collaboration between the city and Catholic Charities was crucial as cases of COVID-19 climbed in April.

“When the pandemic hit, Catholic Charities had to find a way to social distance the ladies in its Women’s Emergency Shelter,” said Mike Sinnett, Vice President of Shelters and Community Outreach. “We also had to provide them 24/7 care to honor the governor’s Stay-at-Home order and triage for the virus. Working with the City of Denver staff, we came together as a shelter community and obtained the use of the Denver Coliseum downtown. We were able to better provide social distancing, 24/7 shelter with three meals a day and other amenities, including showers and case management.

“We believe this effort with the city protected our most vulnerable community and helped prevent the spread of the virus. But more importantly, we made it safer for women experiencing homelessness during this pandemic.”

Featured image: Father Dan Norick hands out supplies during a community giveaway event hosted at Ascension Catholic Parish in Montbello in conjunction with the City of Denver. (Photo provided)