'Welcoming the Stranger' Diocese of Charlotte reaches out to Hispanic immigrants by KEVIN E. MURRAY editor CHARLOTTE -- As Hispanic ministry in the Diocese of Charlotte moves forward, ministry leaders and Hispanics are looking back and reassessing their needs. The diocese's three-year Hispanic Pastoral Plan is being reviewed to ensure its success in light of the U.S. bishops' November 2002 document, "Encuentro and Mission: A Renewed Pastoral Framework for Hispanic Ministry." "That document has some very important aspects of Hispanic ministry that the bishops are asking us to focus on and take into consideration," said Franciscan Sister Andrea Inkrott, director of diocesan Hispanic Ministry. "We're also halfway through the plan and we wanted to stop and see how we were doing, and what we can be doing with the new focus that the bishops asked us to consider," said Sister Inkrott. The Hispanic Pastoral Plan 2002-2005, an updated and diocese-focused version of three previous national Hispanic pastoral plans developed by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, was adopted by the Diocese of Charlotte in November 2002 after almost a year of meetings of Hispanic ministry coordinators, social service personnel, vicars forane and Hispanic community leaders. With the growing number of Hispanics in the Diocese of Charlotte -- estimated to be more than 203,000 -- the Hispanic Pastoral Plan addresses their ever-developing pastoral, health and human services needs. Diocesan members will review the plan at the Catholic Conference Center May 19. "The immigrants who are arriving in North Carolina are bearers of gifts," said Sister Inkrott. "If I look at persons who are different from me as objects of fear or suspicion, I will miss seeing the gifts that they offer and I will be the poorer for it." An ideal home Hispanic Catholics are quickly becoming the majority in the 46-county Diocese of Charlotte. Bishop Peter J. Jugis discussed the Hispanic growth with Pope John Paul II during a private audience March 29, part of the bishop's "ad limina" weeklong visit to the Vatican. Bishop Jugis described the warm reception Catholics in the diocese have given to the Hispanics living in western North Carolina. The pope expressed surprise that so many had come to the diocese. "I told him that there are many people moving into our area because of the job opportunities and the quality of life," said Bishop Jugis. "I also told him of the efforts of diocesan priests to minister to the Latino population." In order to help meet the growing needs of the Hispanic population, Father Julio Cesar Dominguez and Father Jose Enrique Gonzalez-Gaytan, both natives of Mexico, were ordained in the Diocese of Charlotte June 7, 2003. They were among the nine Hispanic priests of the diocese to meet with Bishop Jugis in September 2003, a month before his ordination as bishop. The meeting allowed the bishop to become familiar with the priests and their needs, and discuss the Hispanic Pastoral Plan. Parishes with strong Hispanic congregations throughout the diocese have begun Spanish-language Masses and Hispanic ministries. Recent church dedications have featured bilingual Masses and celebrations. But the Catholic Church is challenged to develop ministries that respond to the needs of Hispanics coming from different countries with different traditions despite their common heritage. "A mariachi Mass is not for Salvadorans or Argentines or Chileans," said Ronaldo Cruz, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs. In January 2003, the U.S. and Mexican bishops issued their first joint pastoral letter pledging cooperation on pastoral care of migrants. Within the Diocese of Charlotte, parishes are finding ways to welcome the diverse Hispanic cultures. Gastonia has a strong Colombian presence, according to Sister Inkrott. Father José Juya, Hispanic apostolate at St. Michael Church, invited Bishop Misael Vacca Ramirez of Yopal, Colombia, to lead a special Mass for Colombians honoring the Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquira at the Gastonia parish in September 2003. "Every Latin American country has a version of Mary," said Juan Garcia, a St. Michael parishioner. He likened the Lady of Chiquinquira to the Lady of Guadalupe, who helped convert millions of Mexicans to Catholicism. "Father José organized this to gather the Colombians and bring them into community," said Sister Inkrott. "It's a chance to draw strength from each other in their faith." To coincide with an annual fiesta honoring the Lady of the Incarnation, the patron saint of Aquacatan in Guatemala, the large Guatemalan population of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Morganton held a weekend celebration April 30-May 2. Father Kenneth Whittington, pastor, and Father Luis Ixcoy, a priest from the Diocese of Huehuetenango in Guatemala, participated in the celebrations. "It's important to serve the people in your parish and increase our awareness of what the church really is, which is unity," said Father Whittington. The Diocese of Charlotte and Belmont Abbey provided grants to help Lissette Westover, a St. Michael parishioner, establish La Casa Latinoamericana de las Carolinas at Belmont Abbey in 2003. La Casa provides interpretation, translation and other services, as well as doctor and job referrals. Continuing efforts Diocesan offices of Catholic Social Services continue to address the needs of Hispanics around the Diocese of Charlotte. Since 1990, Casa Guadalupe, a CSS program with offices in Winston-Salem and Greensboro, has provided critical services and information to the Piedmont-Triad Hispanic community, including helping immigrants achieve legal, permanent residency and citizenship. Between the two offices, Casa Guadalupe assists an estimated 600-700 people per week, according to Lisa Reyna, program director. "Immigration, interpreting, translating -- anything where language is a barrier, we help with," said Reyna. "We defend the rights of those who can't speak for themselves." For its efforts, in 2002 Casa Guadalupe was honored with a Defenders of Justice Award in the Grassroots Empowerment category, given by the North Carolina Justice and Community Development Center. Casa Guadalupe participated in N.C. United Power's First Statewide Assembly in Durham April 25. More than 1,400 delegates from across North Carolina, representing more than 30 countries, discussed issues including a repeal of the new DMV policy restricting driver's licenses to immigrants and expanded bilingual services. The Hispanic Center of High Point, a CSS program originally located in Christ the King Church, provides classes, counseling, individual and group therapy, victim assistance and child and youth services. Program Esperanza, a program of the CSS Charlotte Regional Office that grew out of a partnership with United Way of Central Carolinas in 1997, helps link Hispanics to community resources and services such as English classes, health care, employment, immigration services, school and legal representation. Uniting over dividing "The right to emigrate also certainly exists," said Pope John Paul II in a December 2003 message for the 2004 celebrations of World Day for Migrants and Refugees. Marked by Catholics on different days in different countries, the United States celebrated National Migration Week Jan. 4-10 of this year. The earth and its resources belong to all people, the pope said, and while governments have a right to regulate migration, people have the right to seek safety and dignified lives for themselves and their families abroad. While people may be afraid of the impact immigrants will have on their country and economy, overcoming the fear and welcoming newcomers (as brothers and sisters) is a contribution to peace all are called to make, he said. "If the dream of a peaceful world is shared by many and if the contribution of migrants and refugees is valued, humanity can become increasingly the family of all and our Earth (can become) a real common home," the pope said. "If one promotes a gradual integration of migrants while respecting their identities and safeguarding the cultural patrimony of the population welcoming them, one reduces the risk that immigrants will concentrate in one area, creating real ghettoes," he said. Isolation from one's neighbors and from the culture of the host country, he said, "sometimes ends up increasing the desire for a gradual conquest of the territory," which creates further tension. When peoples of different races, religions and cultures live side by side and work or study together, the pope said, they have an opportunity to discover "values common to every culture capable of uniting rather than dividing." Catholic News Service, Karen A. Evans and Joanita M. Nellenbach contributed to this story.
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