Convocation examines Hispanic ministry


COLUMBIA — Examining ways to serve the ever-increasing number of people of Hispanic origin living and working in South Carolina was the purpose of the Diocese of Charleston’s first Hispanic Ministry Convocation, held Sept. 9 and 10 at the Ramada Plaza Hotel.

Presenters for the conference, which attracted about 150 priests and parish staff members from across the state, were Piarist Father Mario Vizcaino and Lydia Menocal of the Southeast Regional Office for Hispanic Ministry (SEPI). SEPI is an educational and service organization that assists bishops in eight southeastern states in developing and training leaders for the integration of the Hispanic community into the life of the church and society.

Priests and pastoral administrators began the event on Sept. 9 with a presentation on “The Phenomenon of Human Mobility in the World Today.” This was followed by a discussion by Father Rick LaBrecque, pastor of St. James Church in Conway and Church of the Resurrection in Loris, about “The Hispanic Presence in the Diocese of Charleston.”

Deanery meetings were held, with reports shared from each group with the larger body.

At the beginning of the sessions Sept. 10, Bishop David B. Thompson gave a welcome and review of the previous day. He told attendees to “accept inculturation as a gift from God.” In referring to priest’s ability to speak Spanish, the Bishop said that language is important, but interest and love are more important.

In his address, Father Vizcaino acknowledged that problems exist between cultures, but that the answer is dialogue and gaining knowledge of the other group. “Accept everybody as your brothers and sisters,” he said.

Menocal discussed ways the Church deals with immigrants. Material was distributed for analysis and summation that included: “One in Christ Jesus,” a pastoral letter from Bishop Sylvester Treinen of Idaho; an article from the Sept. 2, 1985, issue of L’Osservatore Romano entitled “Pope reflects on need of ecclesial integration,” the pontiff’s World Migrants’ Day message; the 1986 Pastoral Care of Migrants document and Refugees from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration and Tourism; and the opening homily given by Pope John Paul II to the Synod of America, published in the Dec. 4, 1997, edition of Origins.

In her comments on Bishop Treinen’s letter, Sister Beverly Nonte of St. Mary’s in Greenville said the emphasis was on the acceptance of culture, and focused on integration, and not assimilation.

Discussing the Pope’s Migrants Day message, Father Art Dalupang of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in North Charleston said the Holy Father addressed the challenge to help migrants, and how custom and tradition is a barrier.

The document on pastoral care to migrants and refugees from the U.S. bishops’ committee urged recognition of cultures and traditions, while also acknowledging the questions concerning logistics, said Sister Joan Kobe, pastoral administrator of Sacred Heart Church in Abbeville.

Father Filemon Juya of Columbia, in reviewing the opening homily to the Synod of the Americas, said the article highlighted the importance not to separate, but to respect the originality of each culture.

After lunch, an NCCB video was shown which documented the shifting demographics and resultant changes of a Haitian parish in Miami, a Spanish and Anglo parish in Milwaukee, and an Asian and African-American parish in Greensboro, N.C.

“What is known is comfortable and what is unknown is uncomfortable,” said Father Vizcaino after the broadcast. “You don’t know a person unless you love that person.”

He remarked that all cultures have values and anti-values and they need to be supported and evangelized. Picking up on a point made by Bishop Thompson earlier in the day, Father Vizcaino again emphasized that attitude is much more important than language, and that people read through insincere efforts at welcoming. “Pastoral care is most important,” he said.

Attendees were then separated into deanery and/or cluster groups by Menocal, who urged them to come up with concrete plans to carry forward from the day.

Members of the Lowcountry cluster said they would work toward establishing a new amnesty period for the undocumented, while Coastal cluster parishes plan to meet quarterly to discuss needs.

Oblate Father Jim Crowley of St. Mark Church in Newberry and St. Boniface Parish in Joanna talked of a need for “ministry in the larger sense of the word,” while Father Eugene Leonard of Jesus Our Risen Savior Church in Spartanburg called for larger celebrations for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and renewed emphasis on the Cursillo Movement.

Dr. Gay Rowzie, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Charleston, said Bishop Thompson suggested that Spanish be taught in every Catholic school beginning in kindergarten and that three years of Spanish be required in Catholic high schools.

Msgr. James A. Carter, diocesan vicar general, concluded the event by speaking about the concern of a lack of Hispanic ministers in the state, while acknowledging the richness of Hispanics in the Church.