Initiative strives to meet needs of Hispanics throughout diocese - Catholic Courier

Initiative strives to meet needs of Hispanics throughout diocese

ROCHESTER — As the Hispanic parishioners from Church of Our Lady of the Americas Parish bid farewell to Deacon Nemesio “Vellon” Mart√≠nez on Sept. 28, they took it as another step in the many changes that have taken place in their community this summer. The move, though, also will help the diocese change the course of how it ministers to Hispanics, diocesan officials said.

“It will be very difficult,” Pedro Nu√±ez said about losing Deacon Mart√≠nez to another parish after 26 years of service, mainly at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church. Last December, Mt. Carmel, Corpus Christi and Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier churches formed Our Lady of the Americas Parish. This past summer all worship moved to Corpus Christi, and the other two parishes were slated to close.

“He shared so much with us,” Nu√±ez added. “He has done so much for the community.”

Deacon Martínez is one of eight deacons from urban parishes who have been working on how better to serve the pastoral needs of the Hispanic community in the city, the suburbs and rural areas, noted Bernard Grizard, director of diocesan Parish Support Ministries. Grizard has assembled to work on this project a committee of priests, deacons and pastoral administrators who are Hispanic or serve parishes with large Hispanic populations. Along with Deacon Martínez, the other deacons involved in the initiative are Deacons Carlos Vargas, Jorge Malavé, Salvador Otero, George Dardess and Jerry Skerritt as well as newly ordained Deacons José Berrios and Bienvenido DeJesus.

“We cannot do business as usual,” Grizard said. “You have to be willing to be a missionary, go out of your own element … and go from there.”

Grizard said that the deacons will be asked to serve half their time in their parishes and half helping with the initiative, which currently means taking part in monthly committee meetings to share ideas and develop programs.

“We need to work with the Hispanic leadership of the diocese,” he said. “The Hispanic population is increasing and a large part of Hispanics are coming (to Rochester) as Roman Catholics. That doesn’t mean they stay Catholic. … As a diocese, we are not fully equipped to meet all those challenges.”

Deacon Martínez, who will now serve at Holy Apostles Church, said that it will be a tough transition for him to serve in a new parish, but he is grateful to still be working in the city.

“It’s a challenge … getting to meet new people and start a new community,” he said. “It’s a challenge, but I’m ready to go.”

Deacon Vargas, who served 26 years with Holy Apostles and the former St. Francis of Assisi Parish, He said that the bigger challenge will be in finding time to serve the parish community and the Hispanic community at large as part of the initiative. Deacon Vargas began his new role in serving Our Lady of the Americas in September.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Deacon Vargas remarked. “While I will still be part of the Latino community, there are differences in the ways we celebrate our faith. There are completely different traditions. … The problem is what we are doing is ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul.’ How far can you stretch a deacon’s service without compromising their commitment to their faith community? If you’re offering a watered-down commitment, you’re not being of service.”

The Hispanic deacons were included in the initiative because most of them work in the inner city of Rochester, Grizard noted. A growing number of Hispanics, however, live in the suburbs or such outlying areas as Geneva, Newark and Livingston County, while the migrant communities live in the rural areas, he added. The committee will have to expand its vision of Hispanic ministry as it strives to address those Hispanics who live outside the city limits, Grizard said.

“The answers have to be provided by the leaders of the community,” he explained. “It’s going to require a lot of discussions and building trust. Especially with cultural communities, the importance of relationships is key and critical. Our deepest hope is that this study will find ways to respond to all the needs, which are varied.”

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