By Kathy Schmugge
COLUMBIA — The Office of Hispanic Catholics held an open meeting June 22 at St. John Neumann Church in Columbia to discuss the past, present, and future of the ministry.
The room was filled with parish representatives and interested Hispanics, who desire to move the ministry forward for this growing population in South Carolina.
Since the last meeting in October, participation increased from 38 to 83 people, mirroring the rapid growth. Everything was spoken in Spanish or translated into Spanish by Maria Smoak, the director of Hispanic Ministry at St. Peter Church in Columbia. She also translated information into English for the handful of non-Spanishing speaking participants.
“For me as vicar, I see the day as encouraging because of the number of participants. It shows the vitality and commitment of the Hispanic Catholic community in our diocese, and I look forward to finding ways for us to work together as a whole church,” said Father Rick LaBrecque, the vicar for Hispanic Catholics who acted as moderator for the meeting.
Kathleen Merritt, director of the Office of Ethnic Ministry, Father LaBrecque, and an advisory board determined the agenda for the day. Much of the time was spent planning the first diocesan Hispanic Celebration scheduled for Oct. 12 known by Hispanics as Dia de la Hispanidad or Dia de la Rosa, a day to celebrate the Hispanic culture. Committees were formed to make arrangements for speakers and activities that would showcase the diversity and talents of the Hispanic Catholics. The Mass on that day, to be celebrated by Bishop Robert J. Baker, will also include the ordination of two Hispanic deacons. The Mass and celebration will take place at St. John Neumann Church in Columbia.
Merritt asked for input for the pastoral letter being drafted by the diocese on Hispanic Ministry. She said the letter would provide the framework for a pastoral plan, an essential step for coordinating ministerial work.
Merritt told the group about the Sisters of Charity Foundation grants designed to serve Hispanic communities. She discussed upcoming projects and encouraged everyone to submit their ideas and suggestions. One of the projects underway is increasing the number of Immigration Offices, like the one in Columbia staffed by Glenda Bunce. Bunce, present at the meeting, discussed the services her office provides for immigrants in the state.
“Today we are serving three times the number of Hispanics than a year ago. We are moving forward and making a difference in the Hispanic community, but we are learning to do it better,” said Merritt.
Nely Lombardo, who has been involved with Hispanic Ministry for five years at St. Francis by the Sea in Hilton Head Island, said she is encouraged by the growing support of the diocese.
“Even though we have a well-established ministry at St. Francis, every day we have to add more or make adjustments to our services in order to keep up with the rapid growth of the ministry,” she said, adding how glad she is for opportunities like the diocesan meeting to exchange ideas with other directors.