COLUMBIA — On March 15, Hispanic leadership from throughout the diocese, worked on the draft of a one-year plan for 2003-2004. Most of the meeting was spent on fine-tuning the ideas that emerged from the Jan. 25 gathering with Bishop Robert J. Baker and exploring some immediate actions that can be taken to further the diocesan objectives.
The five goals discussed were to coordinate a diocesan Hispanic Celebration, to address social concerns, to increase the number of Hispanic leaders within the diocese, to establish a quality program for Hispanic youth, and to create a pastoral formation of Latino-American Institute within the diocese.
To simplify the discussion, Father Filemon Juya, the vicar for Hispanic Catholics, divided the participants into three groups and had them discuss social issues, evangelization and liturgy. Some individuals stated their concerns with separating the topics because in the Hispanic culture social issues, evangelization and liturgical expression are interwoven.
Father Juya acknowledged that these topics did indeed fall under the same umbrella (the Catholic Church) but he explained that they were divided for discussion purposes only.
One of the reasons for devising a working plan for this year with a special focus on social needs is because of a generous grant given to the Hispanic community by the Sisters of Charity Foundation.
The money is earmarked for efforts in improving the social concerns of Hispanics through things like broadening educational opportunities, reducing language barriers and improving the legal status of some Hispanics.
According to Kathleen Merritt, diocesan director of Ethnic Ministries, poverty is one of the biggest problems facing the Hispanic families. “If the Catholic Church is not going to help with these issues, who will?” asked Merritt during the meeting.
Deacon Jorge Ramirez, who has recently been hired part time as the Hispanic community liaison for the Ethnic Ministry Office, also assisted in the meeting by discussing specific goals and then giving assignments from the plan. As liaison, Deacon Ramirez provides not only his leadership experience at the multicultural parish of St. Thomas, the Apostle Church in North Charleston but his passion to create one harmonious church family.
“At St. Thomas we are unified as a parish,” said Deacon Ramirez who has the same vision for the diocese. He explained how St. Thomas Church functions are integrated and even their Ash Wednesday services were bilingual, bringing different groups together.
“We are all children of God. When we are one in God, the color of our skin, our ethnicity, our sex, and our financial situation will no longer matter,” he said.
There was also some discussion on the progress of a pastoral plan for the diocese generated from the national plan: Encuentro and Mission: A Renewed Pastoral Framework for Hispanic Ministry (2002). Some of the objectives overlapped with the goals discussed in the diocese one-year plan. The pastoral plan will most likely include some long range plans that will not only take considerable time to implement but would be done in phases.
“The pastoral plan is going to take more work than just this meeting and you have to decide what can be done to make a difference in your community,” Merritt said.
Feedback that comes from these meetings will assist the bishop in the writing of his pastoral letter to Hispanic Catholics as well.
Through these useful dialogues, the bishop and his diocesan leadership can assimilate the needs of the Hispanic Catholics so he will be more equipped to serve this growing and vibrant community in South Carolina.