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Associated Press Newswires

Church's Spanish-Language Mass Attracts New Catholics

March 31, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - When she first heard a Spanish-language Mass at St. Rita Church in Okolona four years ago, Wanda Puga was flooded with memories of her native Puerto Rico.

"It was very emotional," said Puga, who joined the church soon afterward. "It took me back to the island and how you worship there. I hoped it would continue - and it has."

Reflecting growth in both its English- and Spanish-speaking populations, St. Rita Church was to bring 37 new Catholics into the parish at Saturday night's Easter vigil service - the most of any parish in the Archdiocese of Louisville. The parish, with about 1,400 families, began an outreach to Hispanics and now has several hundred people attending a Spanish-language Mass - one of five Masses it has each weekend.

"It's growing," said church deacon Mack Nevitt. "We're going to have to knock down a wall or something. I don't know how we can add another Mass to our schedule."

The Rev. Bill Martin said that while there have been some rough moments, the English and Spanish speakers have blended well.

"A lot of people who come find it a very welcoming parish," he said.

The Easter vigil, a long service recounting the story of salvation up to the resurrection of Christ, is the most solemn liturgy of the year for Catholic and some Protestant churches, while many other churches hold their major Easter celebrations on Easter morning.

Some 900 people joined Catholic churches around the archdiocese Saturday night. Under the rite of Christian initiation, those who have not been baptized receive baptism, while all candidates are confirmed into the church and receive communion.

Of the 37 people who were joining St. Rita, 14 are Hispanics. Sixteen are children. Eighteen were being baptized, and the rest were being confirmed.

St. Rita has had particularly high levels of converts in recent years. Some major worship services are bilingual, and parish life has been spiced with traditional Latin American celebrations, such as All Souls Day and the feast of Our Lady of Guadelupe. And parish events such as picnics are held as one group.

"The idea is to recognize we are one parish," said the Rev. Tom Smith, a Franciscan priest. Smith, who studied Spanish in Costa Rica two years ago, coordinates Hispanic ministry for St. Rita.

The archdiocese asked St. Rita to start a Spanish ministry because it was centrally located and accessible to many Mexicans and other immigrants.

Said Puga, "It's wonderful hearing worshiping in your language that you've grown up with." Many wish a Hispanic priest could join the ministry, but "the priests that do know Spanish, we're just grateful for them."

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