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Ants lead woman to Comboni lay missionary vocation

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Dina Beach speaks to a group of 15-year-old Latinas and their mothers. The girls were preparing for their Quinceañera, the rite of passage into young womanhood. (Courtesy Photo)

By Mary Bertollini
For The Catholic Telegraph

Ants pushed Maria Bernardina “Dina” Beach into missionary life. Yes, ants. She studied them as part of her undergraduate studies and was intrigued by their sense of hard work, community and care for one another.

Years later, just before he died, her father told her to live her life “according to God’s rules.” God commands us to love one another, and as Beach reflected on this, she thought about the lesson the ants had taught her.

“I came to see my neighbor as being any member of God’s global ‘colony’ who might be in need.”

She became a Comboni lay missionary, then, and embraced the opportunity to leave her native Mexico for Cincinnati to serve Latino immigrants in their spiritual and physical needs.

From 2001 until just recently, Beach served as coordinator of Hispanic ministry in Hamilton, Middletown, Oxford, Lebanon, and surrounding areas. She developed and directed programs of evangelization, religious education for children and adults, and formation of volunteers. She assisted parishes with the coordination of their services to Hispanics and encouraged the Latino population to be part of the church. She often made pastoral visits to those in prison and to the sick at home or in the hospital. She knew the people and their stories and often served as an advocate/translator for them in medical, legal, and academic situations.

Beach doesn’t wait for people to come to her. Having been trained Comboni-missionary style, she goes out to them, meeting them wherever they are. And she follows the Comboni formula: invitation, catechesis, formation, and then confidence in the leadership that results so that people can be ministers to themselves.

In August, Beach began a new position as assistant director for Latino catechesis in the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis. Her experience during the past years and her strong belief in collaboration will serve her well as she carries out her many responsibilities. As part of her job, Beach will work with parish leadership to provide outreach to Latinos and find ways to help them become full, active members of the faith community. And she will work to develop and provide in-service and training to interested Latinos as a way to help them acquire catechetical skills, theological training, and catechist formation.

Her motto has been “pastoral de con junto” which, in practice means “ministries working together, sharing gifts, visioning, praying together, and even disagreeing — all for the common goal of forming and empowering church leaders.”

There is an impressive collection of statistics related to Hispanics in the United States, but what it all boils down to is that the Catholic Latino population is growing, and it is made up mostly of younger people. Less than five percent fall in the 65-plus age group. The ground is fertile. And here in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis is very aware of this. Beach will serve as a valuable asset in both planting and harvesting this “acre” of God’s kingdom.

Director of Hispanic Ministry Father Louis Gasparini says losing Beach as a member of his office team is bittersweet.

“While I will greatly miss her collaborative spirit and wealth of experience, I know the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis is blessed to have her.”

Since her geographic range for ministry has expanded with this new position, Father Gasparini believes this move to be a blessing for Dina and the archdiocese.

“We’re all in this together anyway, so it will work out just fine, probably even better,” he said.

This story originally appeared in the September 2014 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.

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