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El Sentinel

Church Event Blends Hispanic Groups

By Mark I. Pinsky

October 6, 2001
Copyright © 2001 El Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.


Diverse congregation. (FRANK RIVERA/EL SENTINEL)


As St. John Vianney Catholic Church prepares for tonight's annual Hispanic dance, Baile de la Hispanidad, different Latino groups - Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Colombians, Salvadorans and Mexicans - are doing their best to delicately balance the night's menu, music and customs in ways that accurately reflect the congregation's changing makeup.

That is no accident, according to the Rev. Miguel González, the congregation's associate pastor.

"We are a coat of many colors that enhances the parish and the community through its many gifts and rich traditions," he said. "We want everyone to feel at home here, to feel welcome."

Juggling cultures in an age of increasing diversity is never easy for a church, even when all of the cultures being juggled are Hispanic.

The South Orlando parish, with more than 4,000 families, is considered one of the most diverse in Central Florida, with newcomers and immigrants from more than three dozen countries, joining longtime English speakers. But by far the largest groups in the congregation are Spanish speakers, who make up just under half of the congregation. In Central Florida, the issues raised by diverse Hispanic cultures are not unique to the Catholic community. Large Protestant congregations in Orlando, like Iglesia Fuente de Agua Viva and Iglesia El Calvario, grapple with the same challenges, including the language of the sermons.

"I try to speak a Spanish that is not too provincial or regional, but more universal," said the Rev. Nino González, 49, of El Calvario. He takes care to avoid colloquialisms particular to one country.

At St. John Vianney, Miguel González - like Nino González a native of Puerto Rico - is acutely aware of the many linguistic differences between Spanish speakers from different countries and cultures when he delivers homilies.

"I try to be as conscious of that as I can," he said, "choosing words that convey the message across the board."

Similarly, González said that he and other congregation leaders try to choose worship music from throughout Latin America, because "that's the reality of our Hispanic presence here."

Tony Moreno, a 56-year-old financial planner, came from Cuba in 1961. He is involved in a number of ministries at the church, including the Spanish prayer group.

Hispanics from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean bring very different cultures to the parish, he said, but they are "united by language" and the high priority they place on family ties. In a sense, Moreno said, the congregation is a kind of extended family, made of people from disparate nations who have come to Central Florida in five different decades.

"That's the challenge," he said, "when we come together as a family, when we can learn from each other. That's the beauty of the Catholic Church. The beauty of the diversity is when we can learn from each other. You don't try to impose your culture, but learn other cultures. When Christ is first, the nationalities are second."


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