Love attracts us and sends us; it draws us in and gives us to others. This tension marks the beating of the heart of the Christian. (Pope Francis)
These words of Pope Francis at the 2013 International Congress on Catechesis re¬mind us, who have experienced the love and mercy of Christ, to “go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium 20).
Those who immigrate from other countries and cultures are in danger of remaining on these peripheries if they are not welcomed and appreciated. Among these immigrants, Hispanic persons are of vital concern to the Catholic Church in the United States. Their vibrant life of faith, uprooted from its native soil, is threatened by a secular environment and the lack of structures capable of incorporating and nurturing its rich contributions.
Serving at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Nashville, Tennessee, many of the sisters are blessed to receive from the Hispanic community their rich devotional tradition and exuberant openness to spiritual realities, while sharing with them catechetical formation that enables them to encounter Christ and his Church more deeply. Although Spanish is the language ordinarily spoken within the parish during the liturgy and at gatherings, most of the children are bilingual, allowing for novitiate sisters to teach in English when they assist with catechesis once a month.
“From the very start of our lessons together I sensed the children’s love, devotion and respect,” said one sister who helps prepare a class of about thirty students for First Communion. During Lent, she introduced the Stations of the Cross and prayed them in the church with her class. Afterwards, one student exclaimed, “I loved it! I never knew the whole story before!”
Another sister is honored to prepare 13- and 14-year-olds for Confirmation. “It is an amazing privilege to bring the truth of the faith and the reality of God’s mercy to many of these open, young souls.” She recently taught a class on the effects of Confession, the Sacrament which restores us to a loving relationship with God. In response, a boy in the class asked her, “You mean God will forgive all my sins in Confession?” Sister said she would not forget the look of awe in his face as the greatness of God’s mercy began to dawn on him.
The sisters also help the students integrate the truths of the faith into their daily lives. On Friday nights at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, some of the sisters have a “Las Guadalupanas” club for girls in Kindergarten through eighth grades, with the goal of sharing the joy of life in Christ and helping them grow in prayer and virtue. About 25 girls come each week for activities such as choir, crafts, lessons about saints and scripture, prayer, and their favorite: an annual retreat day at the St. Cecilia Motherhouse in Nashville.
As they discover the riches of the Catholic faith and its impact on their lives, families who are seeking an environment in which their faith can flourish even more fully are beginning to enroll in the Catholic schools. While touring one of these schools recently with a sister, the father of a Hispanic family was visibly moved by the Christ-centered atmosphere and witnessed the students’ mutual respect and their openness to welcoming new people. After the tour the father said, “I didn’t know! This is what my children need.” The parents especially want their children to learn the faith and to grow in loving God and serving others. Sisters in our schools across the country are looking for ways to make Catholic education a reality for Hispanic families.
The desire of the Hispanic community to hand on the Catholic faith to new generations is evidenced in their commitment to catechetical training. The Office of Catechetics at Aquinas College in Nashville developed and teaches a Catechist Formation Program based on the four pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The sisters have also translated the program into Spanish and are now helping form Hispanic catechists in the Dioceses of Nashville and Lexington. Between the two dioceses, about 400 Spanish-speaking Catechists are currently working toward certification. In addition, sisters have given talks at the Spanish tracks of Diocesan Catechetical Conferences in various dioceses.
With the publication of the Spanish edition of A Short Guide to Praying as a Family, entitled UNA INVITACIÓN PARA ORAR EN FAMILIA: CRECIENDO UNIDOS CADA DÍA EN LA FE Y EL AMOR, the sisters have been able to reach out to the Hispanic community nationally. Sisters are traveling to give workshops on praying as a family. They are happy to encourage Hispanic families, who are known for being close and mutually supporting, to hold on to their traditions and develop new ways of praying together that can help them maintain their faith in the midst of a more secular culture. The Hispanic families who attend the workshops joyfully receive the talks and participate in small group activities. They inspire the sisters by their devotion in sharing their faith openly and praying together during the workshops.
It is true to say that, in serving the Hispanic Community in these ways, the sisters themselves are formed, enriched by the witness they receive of a simple and lively faith, open to all that God longs to give.