SENECA — It was the best retreat Marcelo Reyes has attended.
The 16-year-old Seneca High School student was one of approximately 170 Spanish-speaking Catholics from the Upstate who filled St. Paul the Apostle Mission hall June 5-7. People came to hear Father Hipolito de la Cruz Cruz preach, and to engage in prayer, penance and renewal.
Most of those present were from St. Paul, St. Francis Mission in Walhalla or St. Andrew Church in Clemson, said Sister Joan Kobe, minister to Hispanics for the parishes.
Sister Joan, of the Daughters of Wisdom, said she learned about Father Cruz, a priest in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, after he put on a similar retreat last fall at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville.
She said retreats like the ones led by Father Cruz give the Spanish-speaking community solid lessons on church teachings. Participants also had access to a variety of books, Bibles and other reading materials. It was combined with a live band that has grown out of a local Spanish-speaking charismatic group whose members worked with Sister Joan to put together this year’s retreat.
Sister Joan said this retreat was her fifth in the six years she has served as Spanish minister for the three Upstate parishes. The previous ones were limited to one day, but the most recent stretched over portions of three days and included Spanish-speaking Catholics from Greenville, which is 40 miles away.
She is not sure how word of the retreat spread that far, although the family network among Hispanics is often wide.
The growth of this retreat reflects, in part, the increase in the number of Spanish-speaking families settling in the Upstate.
According to Sister Joan, there are 300 to 400 families who regularly attend Mass at St. Paul, St. Francis or St. Andrew, and that another 600 to 700 Spanish-speaking families either live in the area or have family ties here.
Father Cruz works with young people at his parish in Santo Domingo, Sister Joan said, and he “preaches in a way that engages the congregation.”
Reyes is a lifelong Catholic who moved south from New York last year to live with his uncle. He said he first heard Father Cruz at St. Mary Magdalene, although his faith was dormant at that time.
“I was sleeping through the whole retreat,” Reyes said.
Then last November, Reyes’s uncle took him to a youth retreat in North Carolina.
“I came out of there as a new person,” he said. “Before, I was just a Catholic by name. I wasn’t participating in the church.”
Reyes said he had a different impression of Father Cruz after seeing him for a second time, a view born out of his renewed excitement for the Catholic faith.
“I met him (Father Cruz) and he’s really exciting,” Reyes said.