SEPI hosts regional meetings to gather information for pastoral plan

By Deirdre C. Mays

CHARLESTON — SEPI, the Southeast Pastoral Institute, started an investigative mission to get an update on what a national agenda for ministry to Hispanics should include during a meeting at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Sept. 14.

Approximately 80 people from Georgia and North and South Carolina gathered to discuss topics of import to the ever-growing ministry to Catholics of Spanish-speaking origin including the growth and resulting spiritual needs of the Hispanic community and its leadership.

Piarist Father Mario Vizcaino, director of SEPI, led the subregional meeting for the Atlanta province to discuss the National Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry and how it is applied to each diocese. The plan was approved in 1987 focusing on the pastoral needs of the Hispanic Catholic.

“Determining this national agenda will be the first actualization of the national Hispanic pastoral plan,” he explained. “The second will be the initiative of youth ministry.”

Youth ministry is of special concern, the priest said, because half of the Hispanic population, which is estimated at 35.6 million people, is Catholic, and they make up 48 percent of Catholics in the church in the southeast.

Half of that total population is estimated to be below 26 years of age, said Father Vizcaino, citing numbers from the U.S. census and the official Catholic directory.

“They (youth) are seeking more outreach to them,” he said. “They need programs adapted to their situations. They need organized social activities and formation.”

During the meeting, participants identified needs and possible solutions within Hispanic ministry such as increasing the number of Hispanic priests and religious personnel in the church, community advocacy, and lay leadership development, according to Kathleen Merritt, director of the Office of Ethnic Ministry.

“My group identified the need for churches to have resources available to welcome Hispanics,” Merritt said. “Some of these resources included help with finding jobs, legal and immigration issues and transportation. A solution to this issue was to have all parishes with 200 or more Hispanics to hire a full time Hispanic Director for the parish.”

The group also discussed educational opportunities for lay leadership development, training for sacrament preparation and education.

“This was a wonderful coming together of leaders of the five diocese of the province. It was challenging and affirming,” said Father ‘Rick La Brecque, vicar for Hispanic Ministry. “There is just such a good spirit about what we can do to help. It is such a blessing for us in this region to have Father Vizcaino and SEPI as a resource.”

Bishop Robert J. Baker said the meeting provided him with some concrete suggestions.

“One young man said that we can do many things for people, but if we don’t see Jesus Christ in people all we do is useless,” the bishop related. “Welcoming is a key component to Hispanic ministry. I am very happy the Diocese of Charleston, through the Office of Ethnic Ministry and the Vicar for Hispanic Ministry, were able to host this conference.

“It is helpful for us to take advantage of SEPI for our priests and religious sisters and brothers as SEPI has a program to welcome people in ministries who come from other countries.”

SEPI works to support Hispanic ministry efforts. It covers a nine state area and its corresponding dioceses, 28 in total. Other fact-finding meetings are scheduled to take place in Louisville, Ky.; New Orleans; Mobile, Ala.; and Miami.