Latino Catechists enrich local church
By Sister Tracy Kemme, SC
Ever Reynoso struggled to find a Catholic parish that would welcome Latino immigrants, when he arrived in Cincinnati in 2004 after an arduous journey from Guatemala. Twelve years later, he is studying to be a catechist in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Dina Beach, the Assistant Director for Latino Catechesis, long desired to create diocesan-wide formation opportunities for Hispanic Catholics. A Comboni Lay Missionary, Beach is inspired by founder Father Daniele Comboni’s perspective that mission work should never be setting out to “save” others but rather giving them the tools they need to realize their own missionary vocation. Beach’s dream to do this for her fellow Latinos is becoming a reality.
Reynoso is grateful for her efforts. “For years, there weren’t opportunities for people like me,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much I longed to go deeper in my faith. I read as many books as I could, but it wasn’t enough.”
Last year, Beach launched the first diocesan-level faith formation program for Latinos, and 277 local Hispanic Catholics completed the course. This year, seventy-nine of those people, including Reynoso, are participating in a more intensive Catechist training program, some online and some in person.
“After the 2015 introductory program, I heard repeatedly that the students wanted more serious formation. And now, they are doing it, and they are excellent,” Beach said. “Through these programs, we affirm that our Latino Catholics are not a separate group that belongs on the outside. We are one Church, and they have the capacity to be leaders in this Church.”
The breadth of topics covered in the catechist training program is evidence that it goes far beyond the Latino community. In early September, for the first time, the Catholic Social Action Office partnered with the Office for Evangelization and Discipleship to hold,, Spanish-language Catholic Social Teaching formation events for the Latino catechists in training. The more than forty-five students who attended, originally hailing from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Puerto Rico, engaged eagerly in the conversation around the Church’s rich tradition of social teachings.
The training resonated with Reynoso, who said, “I see how the Church is called to bring Jesus to the world through a connection with those among us who are most in need. I’m especially touched to learn Church teaching on migration and welcoming the stranger. It means so much to me that my Church cares about my experience as an immigrant.”
Tony Stieritz, director of Catholic Social Action, praised the Evangelization and Discipleship Office as well as the Hispanic Pastoral Ministry Office for their vision in this endeavor and Beach for her leadership. “It is a privilege to be invited to work with this program. It’s truly a new day in the pastoral and formational life of the Archdiocese,” he said. “These emerging catechists are the future of a more intercultural local Church. Not only will they be forming those of their own ethnic background, but through their experiences and articulation of the faith, they will be more in a position to evangelize all the faithful of the Archdiocese and the broader community!”
This is Beach’s hope and one of the reasons she wanted her students explore Catholic Social Teaching. “I think that we often look at ‘social justice’ as something for Anglos to learn and live out. It is for all the faithful,” she said. “Immigrants, too, are called to be agents of God’s love on a global scale.”
Beach and Stieritz both emphasized that the Catholic Church in the United States and Archdiocese is enriched by the growing presence of faithful Latino Catholics. The pilot catechist program for Latinos is one way to honor their presence and welcome their gifts. Beach’s vision is that our unity will strengthen as these new leaders begin their ministry.
Reynoso is ready: “This program is a breath of fresh air for me; it is a fresh plate of food that nourishes my walk with Christ. Something in me has awakened. Now, I feel compelled to live it out and to share it with others however God calls me to do so.”