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Guatemalan community celebrates 11 years at Holy Family

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Father Len Wenke celebrates the 11th anniversary Mass for the Holy Family Latino community.
Father Len Wenke celebrates the 11th anniversary Mass for the Holy Family Latino community. (Courtesy Photo)

By Mary Bertonlini
For The Catholic Telegraph 

Hospitality was the reason Holy Family Church in Price Hill came into being, and it remains a priority today.

Two major back-to-back floods in 1883 and 1884 drove people out of Cincinnati’s West End and up into Price Hill to live. St. Lawrence Church couldn’t absorb all the Catholic families who settled in the eastern section, so Holy Family Church was built to welcome them into a place of worship. The new church’s dedication took place in August 1884. 

This past August, 130 years later, the church at the corner of West 8th Street and Hawthorne Avenue helped its Guatemalan community celebrate 11 years as part of the Holy Family faith community. It wasn’t flood waters that drove out this Latino group from their homeland, but the ravages of years of extreme poverty; political unrest and corruption; massacres of the indigenous; lack of decent health care; the crippling effects of a civil war that spanned nearly four decades; and the latest cancers eating away at this small country: drug trafficking, organized crime and gang violence. All this dumped on an indigenous population with an illiteracy rate of 25 percent and the fourth highest rate of malnutrition in the world.

Some of the Guatemalan immigrants who came to Cincinnati settled in Price Hill and formed small faith communities for moral support and group prayer. Since there was no church for them to call home, they gathered in one apartment or another. When they met Father Samuel Gonzalez, a priest working at St. Charles Hispanic Center in Carthage, he advised them to ask for some space at St. Lawrence, but there was none. However, in 2009, Holy Family Church agreed to rent them space in its auditorium, and they would gather there for meetings and prayer services.

In August of 2012, when Father Len Wenke became pastoral administrator of Holy Family parish, he improved the situation. He invited the Guatemalans to become part of the parish community and in July, 2013, introduced a bilingual Mass. “We made the decision not to have a Spanish Mass,” Father Wenke explained, “because we wanted to encourage celebration as one community rather than two cultures using the space of the church at separate times.”

“It was a bumpy road at first,” Father Wenke said, “but it has smoothed out a bit.” While English speaking parishioners have weekend Masses in English as an option, many choose to join an average of 60 Guatemalans for the bilingual celebration of the Eucharist. And the Guatemalans attend the English Masses on occasion. Fellowship gatherings in the church hall for various events are also becoming more culturally mixed.

The parish would like to have sacramental preparation for English and Spanish speaking adults as one group, using the traditional text and process but with cultural adaptations for the Latinos, but that is still in the dream stage.

Asked Holy Family’s secret to its process of assimilation of Latinos, Father Wenke smiled. “This Guatemalan community has a deep devotion to the Holy Spirit, and there’s no question the Spirit is moving here, but I like to think it also has to do with an attitude of hospitality, something this parish sees as an essential quality of the Catholic Church.”

The Guatemalans have a median age of about 25, with two or more Latino baptisms taking place every month, which bodes well for the future. The Holy Family school year began with 231 students, 61(28 percent) of them Guatemalan. That’s up from 41 last year and 24 the year before. This young and growing part of the parish will continue to have an active part in church life, and Father Wenke is quick to emphasize, “They have every right because they are baptized and initiated as Catholics.”

Vidal Ramirez, prayer leader of the Guatemalan small faith community and catechist to its children, says everyone feels welcome at Holy Family. They are grateful to have been made a part of the parish and look forward to becoming more involved. “Now we are lectors,” Vidal said, “and some Guatemalans are involved in music ministry.” Ramirez said he would like to see the Guatemalan youth become more active in the church. “The little ones know where they belong, but the teenagers and young adults still need to find their way.” He hopes Holy Family can help to make this happen.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.

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