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Delmarva Churches Add Services To Meet Rapidly Increasing Numbers Of Hispanics…Manatee Church Benefits From Payment For Debt

Delmarva Churches Add Services To Meet Rapidly Increasing Numbers Of Hispanics

Associated Press Writer

September 14, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

EASTON, Md. (AP) - On a late summer evening on the Eastern Shore, five Hispanic men gather at the front of a small chapel.

The men, each holding a guitar, crowd unceremoniously into a corner near the closed piano. One man kneels at one end of the the altar as he plays, his eyes never leaving the Peruvian priest.

Like their fellow parishioners, the guitarists heard about the Spanish-language Mass at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church from someone they knew. They began showing up - some with borrowed guitars - Sunday after Sunday.

Now the circle of musicians, like the sanctuary, is full.

The massive influx of Hispanics to the Delmarva peninsula, 90 to 95 percent of whom are Catholic, is showing itself in church, say officials of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, Del. The diocese, which covers the Maryland and Delaware territories of the peninsula, estimates that as many as 4,000 Hispanics attend the Spanish Masses offered by its 16 parishes.

Five years ago, about 1,500 Hispanics attended Spanish Masses at seven churches, said the Rev. Chris Posch, director of the Hispanic ministry for the diocese.

Saints Peter and Paul began holding Mass in Spanish about five years ago, with the help of a traveling priest. Three people came to the first service. On a recent Sunday night, about 250 Hispanic worshippers filled every pew of the chapel.

"I prefer the Spanish Mass, even though I speak good English," said Irma Hernandez, who came to Queenstown from Bolivia 20 years ago. "It has meaning to us. Here, everyone knows everyone. Your heart is here."

Hernandez sometimes goes to an English Mass in Chestertown on Saturdays. But she doesn't know anyone, and she feels lost, she said.

"It's like I didn't go to church," when the service is over, Hernandez said.

This month, the Diocese of Wilmington added another Spanish Mass. The first-ever Spanish service at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Middletown, Del., drew 100 worshippers.

"It's a dominant part of their lives to worship and to go to weekly Mass," said Bob Krebs, diocese spokesman. "If it's in their nativelanguage, if the music is by their friends and the hymns are what they're used to, it makes them feel less homesick to be able to worship the way they're accustomed."

The 2000 Census showed the nine counties of the Eastern Shore were home to nearly 7,000 Hispanics in 2000, up from fewer than 3,000 in the 1990 census. Most observers agree those numbers underrepresent the Hispanic population, which includes some undocumented immigrants and seasonal workers, said Timothy Dunn, immigration scholar and sociology professor at Salisbury University.

What lures them to a place so far from home - where so few native residents speak Spanish or identify with their cultures?

"Tranquilo. Mucho trabajo," says Ledicia Garcia, an El Salvadoran who works at an antique shop in St. Michaels. The shore is quiet, with a rural atmosphere many of the immigrants are used to. And there is plenty of work; most take jobs in construction, landscaping, in factories or on farms.

On a recent Sunday night at the Easton church, Hispanic parishioners filed into the chapel in twos and threes. Families, women with babies, elderly women and teenage boys in jeans came from all over Talbot County and neighboring counties. Some arrived on a bus from Cambridge, 16 miles away.

The congregation included a few Anglo-Americans. Even though they don't speak Spanish, they enjoy the service, said Sister Dorothy Prettyman, who runs the church's Hispanic ministry.

Babies cry, children chatter, and the full, acoustical sound of the guitars fills the chapel. And everyone sings. Everyone. "I love that," Prettyman says.

For the immigrants, the service offers a few hours of something familiar after a week of managing in a strange, sometimes hostile world.

They look forward to seeing each other, even though some have little in common besides their faith and their language. At Saints Peter and Paul alone, they hail from Nicaragua, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Argentina, Colombia and El Salvador.

"Even though we're from different countries, we all want to be together. We still have to see each other," Hernandez said. "It's the best day of the week."

Parishioners linger afterward to talk and to sort through clothes donated by each other and by the English-speaking members of the church. The church also serves a social services role, with Anglo members sometimes offering Hispanic congregants rides to doctors' offices or other appointments.

Prettyman tries to get the two sides of the congregation to socialize. She announces church picnics and other events at the end of the Spanish Mass.

It's a slow process, said Millie Houck, a real estate agent who came to Maryland from Cuba as a refugee with her parents in 1962.

"It takes a long time in any culture to open up to another culture enough to where you're operating at a human level," she said. "So that I know you as a person, not just as part of a group. It's harder to develop those one-on-one relationships that help build a community, but it's beginning to happen.

"Communication is a big problem."

At Trinity Episcopal Parish in Wilmington, Del., the church has begun offering English classes to Hispanic members - and Spanish classes to its Anglo members.

"It used to be that the Latino congregation was very, very segregated from the rest of our population," said Anne Bonnyman, church rector. "There's more of an attempt to get together to know one another than in the past."

The Catholic Diocese of Wilmington sometimes does more than encourage Anglos and Hispanics to develop relationships with each other, Posch said.

The church sets up "transforming encounters" with a half-dozen English speakers and a half-dozen Spanish speakers from the same parish, along with a bilingual interpreter. People talk about their lives, their troubles.

If it works, they find out how much they have in common, Posch said.

"It's almost like a 'eureka' moment. There's a beautiful bond of solidarity that happens," he said.

And the diocese encourages its Anglo members to attend ceremonies long held by Hispanic congregants, Posch said. St. Paul's in Wilmington, Del., holds a celebration of Our Lady of Guadelupe, the apparition of the Virgin Mary who appeared before a poor, uneducated Mexican man in the 1500s, that now attracts 1,500 worshipers of both backgrounds, he said.

Anglo worshippers tell Posch that the service strengthens their own faith.

"Seeing the devotion of people to the Lady of Guadelupe, they say it touches their heart, and they see something in their faith that they've never seen before," Posch said.


On the Net:

Trinity Episcopal Parish:

Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, Del.:

Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church:

Manatee Church Benefits From Payment For Debt


September 16, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Bradenton Herald. All rights reserved.

BRADENTON -- While their parents are attending the 12:30 p.m. Mass in Spanish on Sundays at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, children of farmworkers are learning English from a doctor who is honoring a spiritual contract.

Dr. Sonia M. Ruiz of Brandon, a pediatrician, volunteers at the new Guadalupe Preschool Religious Education in honor of Sacred Heart's the Rev. Julio Rivero. The priest helped Ruiz's son, Joey Ruiz, find comfort in his faith before dying of a brain tumor in 1999 at age 14.

Now, Sonia Ruiz wants to give back by helping hundreds of children, many of them the sons and daughters of Manatee County farmworkers.

"Joey had gone from one family to another until Dr. Ruiz adopted him," Rivero said. "She introduced him to faith. By the end of his life, he had a faith that could move mountains."

Ruiz draws from that faith to teach English and religion to roughly 70 children of Sacred Heart Hispanic families. She is joined by seven other adult volunteers and six teens.

This past Sunday, in the second floor of the Parish Hall, Marti Centeno, 7, who came to Bradenton from Mexico, was among a group of children being taught the "Hail Mary" prayer in English.

Marti said if he had known the prayer before coming to the school he would have prayed for his mother and father, who came to Bradenton from Mexico to pick crops this year.

"It was sad," he said. "There was no water."

At a nearby table, Lessli and Martha Hernandez, ages 5 and 6 respectively, were drawing pictures. The pictures will be part of a booklet that will be compiled all year then given to the child to present to the parents on Christmas morning.

"This was Father Rivero's brainstorm," said Marion Gawlowicz, director of the preschool. "Give them a time with other children and let parents worship."

Under Gawlowicz's leadership, children have planted flower seeds in little pots. Each child's name is on a pot. They will proudly watch their plants grow and see what can grow from tiny seeds.

"We are building esteem," Gawlowicz said. "We are starting with ABCs and introducing some numbers and shapes. We are hoping, as we go through, that the kids will get the message that Jesus loves them and that they are important."

Sandra Sanchez, 7, enjoys writing in preschool. Maritza Sanchez loves hearing fairy tales. Bayshore Elementary student Sevastian Rodriguez, 8, is getting something he already considers vital.

"We are learning to pray here," Sevastian said.

At the other side of the room, teens Eleuterin Salazar, Samantha Montoya, Maria Centeno, Gabriela Vega, Moises Garza and Denise Rivera work with the 3-year-olds, many of whom have never been separated from their parents.

There are more than 100 Hispanic children under age 5 in church during Mass, Gawlowicz said.

"He is trying his utmost to build the Spanish and Anglo community into one parish and he continues to have bilingual Masses all the time," Ruiz said of Rivero. "He doesn't want two parishes, he wants one."

Ruiz, who was born in Puerto Rico and attended Catholic school there, said a big part of teaching Hispanic children English is being bicultural as well as bilingual.

"You have to understand what these kids are going through," Ruiz said. "As they are learning English, many of their parents are only speaking Spanish. There is a separation."

Ruiz throws her heart into helping some of the 70 children enrolled in the school, which meets in a second floor classroom of the Parish Center.

The kids seem to love her.

"She does maybe too much," said Rivero. "She gives them candy. She gives them hugs. She gives them love."

She also opened her heart to Joey Ruiz, who, from the age of 4, shuttled from foster home to foster home. Ruiz, who was his state-appointed doctor, decided to be a foster parent for him when he was 11 and formally adopted Joey five days before he died.

Until the end, they hoped for a miracle recovery, even traveling to Lourdes, France. Ruiz said the miracle was spiritual, not physical, by coming to terms with his dying. Before the trip to Lourdes, Joey woke up in the hospital one day and saw a figure sitting next to his mother, Ruiz said.

"He said, 'Who is that sitting to your left?' " Ruiz said. "I asked him to describe the person. He said, 'She is short like us.' That made me laugh. He didn't call her the Virgin Mary, but we all assumed that it was she because of the way he was describing her and the way he felt. She said she made him calm and happy."

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