COLUMBIA — Through the generosity of the Sisters of Charity Foundation, Father Carson Bush recently learned how to better serve the growing Hispanic community in Columbia. As part of the foundation’s Hispanic grant initiative, the parochial vicar at St. Peter Church spent three weeks in the Hispanic Language and Culture Course at the Southeast Pastoral Institute (SEPI), located on the campus of Barry University in Miami Shores, Fla.
Founded in 1978 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, SEPI continues to expand its mission, which is to assist dioceses and churches in providing leadership formation for the Hispanic Ministry in the Southeast. They currently have 14 ministry schools in the region.
The three-week course that Father Bush took is offered twice a year and awards college credit. Because Barry University has advanced degrees in Pastoral Ministry for Hispanics, SEPI offers a variety of programs. Although this program usually attracts religious and parish leaders, it is open to anyone who has a desire to help Hispanics.
“I spent a lot of time studying the language. In the afternoons, I had to read church documents (regarding Hispanics) in Spanish and then translate them into English,” recalled Father Bush, who did not know the language prior to this experience.
The priest also took several field trips with his class to Hispanic parishes in the area. One parish he visited was St. John Bosco Church, founded shortly after the Cuban migration to the United States. He also visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy, a popular devotional site for Cuban Catholics.
When Father Bush first arrived at the institute, he was impressed with the tile paintings at the school that illustrated the various devotions to the Blessed Mother. Many of the Hispanic cultures have their own unique representation of the Mother of God.
“Spiritually I gained the perspective of a people who have journeyed to our land. I also see how we have an awesome opportunity to be Christ for them but also to receive Christ from them,” said Father Bush. “[Hispanics] bring a different understanding of our faith. They can enrich our faith here in ways that we might not expect.”
The priest feels that “if we give the Spirit room,” the two cultures will blend together in this country, and it will give birth to “a new and beautiful actualization of the faith.”
“We are blessed to have people who are willing to give up their time and come here to learn a new language and culture so they can help others,” said Juan Jose Rodriguez, a SEPI instructor and the South Regional Coordinator for Hispanic Youth Ministry.
Rodriguez sees the course as a first step. For the priests, the program helps them learn enough Spanish to celebrate the Mass and to be able to communicate on a basic level. Ministering to another culture is a continual process and one Rodriguez believes his students will follow because of their sensitivity to the Hispanic community.
After his first Sunday back, some of Father Bush’s parishioners expressed a desire to learn Spanish and become more engaged in this outreach, in keeping with the tradition of the parish. St. Peter was established in 1821 to minister to Irish immigrants in Columbia. Father Bush will be a part of the continuation of that hospitality with the tools he acquired from the institute.