By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
NORTH CHARLESTON — In a state with a booming Hispanic population, ministry to the Spanish speaking has become a priority for church personnel in South Carolina. About 70 representatives from across the Palmetto State gathered at St. Thomas the Apostle Church April 30 to review goals and objectives to help formulate a pastoral plan for Hispanic Ministry. They also heard Bishop Robert J. Baker’s thoughts about this area.
Starting last fall, 33 people involved in Hispanic ministry began meeting to develop a plan for the diocese and its parishes. Last September the vision statement was formulated, and by November goals were created. Lastly, objectives and strategies for these goals were discussed in January.
At last Monday’s listening session, Sister Mary Laura Lesniak, parish life facilitator at Holy Spirit Mission in Laurens, gave a general overview of how the plan evolved. All talks were given in English and Spanish.
In discussing the increasing number of Hispanics in South Carolina, Sister Lesniak said, “They have faith and a desire to be part of the church. It’s important that we develop a plan. All of us need to begin with a perspective of ministry, beginning always with the person. We need to recognize that people who speak Spanish come from a variety of cultures.”
The parish life facilitator also stressed the importance of identifying and developing leaders in the Hispanic community. “Ask people to share their faith,” said Sister Lesniak. “And make a commitment that the church in South Carolina is committed to growth and adaptation.”
Father ‘Rick LaBrecque, pastor of St. James Church in Conway, and Father Filemon Juya, who works with Hispanic Ministry in the Columbia area, gave a detailed presentation on the Hispanic Ministry plan.
The vision statement developed for the document reads: “We believe that Hispanic Ministry develops respect for the identity and giftedness of each person and each culture. We believe that Hispanic Ministry promotes integration among the various Hispanic peoples and cultures and at the same time with the different communities in the parish. We believe that Hispanic Ministry needs strong community leadership, the generous sharing of talent, time and treasure, networking and a commitment to continual growth and adaptation.”
The two priests then reviewed the five goals for Hispanic Ministry that emerged from the prioritization of each deanery group during the November gatherings. They are:
1) To provide services to meet the spiritual needs of all the parishioners such as Mass, sacraments, liturgical and cultural services, catechesis for all ages, and activities that promote family life within the parish.
2) To outreach by providing services as well as evangelization by way of small ecclesial communities. “This is help beyond immediate spiritual needs, but genuine outreach, such as referral to social service agencies,” said Father Juya.
3) To have a diocesan Hispanic Leadership Council composed of pastoral and lay personnel for collaboration, planning, mutual support, etc. According to Father LaBrecque, such a group had met in past years, and the priest said he found the gatherings to be very informative.
4) To establish an effective pastoral plan that stresses evangelization for all the groups of the church.
5) To have Bishop Robert J. Baker articulate a vision for Hispanic Ministry at parish and diocesan levels (a pastoral letter).
During small group dialogue sessions at lunch, attendees were asked to identify what gives them hope from the plan, what concerns them, and what is missing.
Among the groups, there was optimism regarding the number of people participating in the planning process and that many parishes are already implementing parts of the pastoral. The presence of the bishop and diocesan staff at the St. Thomas gathering was also mentioned as a positive sign. Concerns cited in going forward with the Hispanic pastoral plan were the shortage of priests, creating parish support, and fears that the plan will stay as a document only and not be put into action.
Many of the concerns were again repeated in discussing what was missing from the document. Concrete ideas for programs, recruitment of more Hispanic priests, strategies for implementation, and no clear emphasis on youth were all listed as worries.
In his closing comments, Bishop Baker stressed that, “It’s important that the plan be put into effect and not just written and then thrown away. A wonderful foundation has been laid today. We have a nice model for all ethnic ministries of the diocese.”
Bishop Baker highlighted the need for cultural sensitivity, saying the church is called to be sensitive to ethnic diversity. “God created us as individuals with ethnic backgrounds,” the bishop said, while emphasizing the need for training regarding cultural diversity.
Mercy Sister Lupe Stump, outgoing director of Hispanic Ministry, was thanked by the bishop “for bringing these efforts together in such a wonderful way.” The nun then received a rousing round of applause. Bishop Baker also assured listeners that Kathleen Merritt, the new diocesan director of Ethnic Ministries, would carry on the work of the pastoral plan in her duties.