BY PAUL A. BARRA
SUMTER – They came, they saw, they inspired. That’s how parishioners at St. Jude feel about four young men who visited for six summer weeks and revolutionized the parish’s Hispanic ministry.
The four are three seminarians from Mexico and one from the Diocese of Charleston. The revolution they wrought was capped on the day they said farewell by 21 baptisms, five confirmations and five first Communions. The recipients of the sacraments were all Latinos. It was a festive, crowded, long Mass celebrated in Spanish by Father Karl Ashmann of St. Anne on Aug. 4 and topped off with a dinner afterward. The day’s events were a fitting finale for the ministry of the young visitors, according to the pastor of St. Jude.
“Nothing we asked was too much for them,” said Redemptorist Father Alistair McKay. “They were giving classes, visiting the (labor) camps and doing all the sacramental preparations. We have a good number of marriages lined up for the future.”
The Redemptorist priest said that a weekly Mass in Spanish, instituted when the seminarians came, went from 80 participants the first week to nearly 300 five weeks later. He called the seminarians a Godsend.
“We’re off and running now, and they deserve all the credit,” Father McKay said.
Three of the seminarians are from Guadalajara, the result of a deal between Mexican Cardinal Juan Sandoval and Charleston Bishop Robert Baker. They are Rev. Mr. Octavio Delgado and Rev. Mr. Jose Efrain Romo, both transitional deacons, and Juan Cansino.
All will be ordained to the priesthood on the feast of Pentecost 2003. Accompanying them and translating was our own seminarian, Jeff Patrick Lawrence.
Parishioner Mariel Ferrell called them charming and said St. Jude will be at a loss when they’ve gone: “They’ve really done mission here and have touched everybody.”
The seminarians themselves gave the credit to God for their successful visit to Sumter.
“We’re just the instruments he used to call his Hispanic children. For many people not too familiar with English, we have been able to open the doors,” said Deacon Romo.
Deacon Delgado and Cansino said that they benefited from many and varied experiences in Sumter and would not be averse to returning to South Carolina as priests.
Lawrence cited a recent study by the University of South Carolina to illustrate the depth of need for Spanish-speaking priests in the diocese.
“They say there are 150,000 Hispanics in South Carolina. The ratio of priests to Hispanics is tremendous compared to the rest of us. It’s not just the language; it’s the culture, too. The people can relate more easily to the priest when he is immersed in their culture,” Lawrence said.
Deacon Delgado said that the Hispanic people who come to worship at St. Jude are very religious: “They need only someone to orient them and prepare them for the sacraments.”
Parishioner Alice Ingram said that the impetus provided by the visiting seminarians fulfilled the parish Hispanic ministry.
“This is it; finally we have come full circle,” she said.
She called the four men an inspiration; Father McKay went a step further in his praise.
“I don’t know if the cardinal sent his three best seminarians, but if these are any indication, Guadalajara must have the world’s best seminary,” he said.
The four men left St. Jude to finish their pastoral season in Conway and Greenville.