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January 13, 2010
Christmas Program aims to unite faithful as 'One Family Under God'
By John Gleason
A new program designed to bring the faithful from all backgrounds and walks of life together is being introduced at parishes in the Denver Archdiocese.
Called “One Family Under God,” the program is an ambitious project to integrate Spanish-speaking and English-speaking members into one united parish community. In the last 23 years, the number of churches offering services in Spanish has jumped from 10 to 45. At the same time, the Office of Hispanic Ministry has grown from a staff of three to one of the largest ministries in the archdiocese, directly serving more than 31,000 individuals.
Luis Soto, director of Hispanic ministry and executive director of Centro San Juan Diego, the Denver Archdiocese’s institute offering pastoral and family ministry to Spanish-speaking Catholics, said the program is much needed.
“The idea for this came in 2007,” he said. “The archdiocese recognized a great need to not only minister to Hispanic Catholics but also give them the tools and the opportunities they need to fully integrate into the life of the Church in this country.”
Since its inception, archdiocesan Hispanic ministry has been seen as an ethnic ministry, said Soto. But what is actually needed, he emphasized, is an initiative that encompasses all people, one where everyone is working together in Church ministry.
“People might speak different languages or have different cultural understandings,” he said. “Regardless of this, we want to bring everyone together to work on one Catholic ministry serving all. We are Catholics before being Hispanics, or of any other ethnic origin.”
Soto said an archdiocesan committee with members from different ethnic groups and ministries was created to share ideas and find better ways of building the local Church into an entity that is genuinely united as “One Family Under God.”
“The program will challenge Spanish-speaking Catholics to learn and value American language and culture and will invite English-speaking Catholics to practice a welcoming and loving attitude toward our brothers and sisters,” Soto explained. “We will not emphasize our differences but our common ground, our common Catholic faith.”
Implementing “One Family Under God” will start with a pilot program in four of the 45 parishes that have significant Hispanic populations.
“Step one is to learn about the ‘other’ cultures in the parish,” Soto said. “Parish councils will start by putting together events and activities that aim to appreciate and value the gifts the other cultures bring to the table.”
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., initiated the project and collaborated with Soto to create it. The archbishop said differences can in fact bring people together.
“If we really believe in the message of the Gospel, then differences in ethnicity and culture should be a source of mutual enrichment for Catholics, not division,” he said. “The Church is, and always has been, one family in Jesus Christ. We need to live that truth more authentically, and I have great confidence in Luis Soto to lead the program very effectively.”
The program goes beyond Hispanic or any other ethnic or cultural ministry, Soto said, adding that “One Family Under God” will strive to reach across cultures and generations. The ministry could have tremendous impact on young people who can feel alienated when cultures come together, noted Christopher Stefanick, archdiocesan director of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry.
“I think this will strengthen the faith of Latino teens,” he said. “They will see that not only is their faith something that is tied to their family or their past, but is also something that belongs to their future.
“Secondly,” he said, “I believe it will strengthen the faith of Anglo teens because the Hispanic culture has something amazing to share with the Church in America. It’s a vibrancy—a blessing—for the entire community. If they remain isolated then the rest of the Church doesn’t experience that blessing.”
One of the first parishes to implement the pilot program will be Queen of Peace in Aurora. Father Martin Lally, the pastor, said he is looking forward to putting the ministry into operation.
“We’re beginning with an oversight group composed of lay people—both leadership of the parish and members of all ethnic groups—who will draw up the nuts and bolts of how to proceed,” he said. “We’re a large parish with a great deal of talent and resources to draw on. This community is incredibly gifted and should be able to contribute in many ways to the program.”
Father Lally said the program is an opportunity for all members of his parish, not just those of Hispanic ancestry but from other cultures as well, to unite as one community.
“It’s a way for us to come together and see our shared faith and humanity as our common denominator and to be able to recognize that we are all created in the image of God,” he said. “While elements of language and skin color are important, they aren’t as important as our humanity and faith, the two things that all of us share.”