June 28, 2013

Immersion program helps build bridges between cultures

Along with native Mexican dancers, women participating in the archdiocese’s first-ever Spanish immersion program dress in traditional folkloric dresses while the men wear sombreros with Father John McCaslin, third from left in the back row, and Franciscan Brother Moises Gutierrez, far right in the back row, during a break in the program held at Padua Academy in Indianapolis on June 7. (Submitted photo)

Along with native Mexican dancers, women participating in the archdiocese’s first-ever Spanish immersion program dress in traditional folkloric dresses while the men wear sombreros with Father John McCaslin, third from left in the back row, and Franciscan Brother Moises Gutierrez, far right in the back row, during a break in the program held at Padua Academy in Indianapolis on June 7. (Submitted photo)

By Mike Krokos

“Tomas, qual es tu dia favorita?”

“Domingo.”

Translation: “Thomas, what is your favorite day?”

Answer: “Sunday.”

That simple exchange between instructor Leticia Chaparro of a local language school and Deacon Thomas Ward was an example of how English-speaking parish leaders in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis spent a week earlier this month taking part in a Spanish immersion experience developing skills, approaches and frameworks that will help them minister to the area’s growing Latino community.

“This is the first time we’ve done this here in the archdiocese. The idea of having this program came about because we’ve been looking for opportunities to offer something like this to both the English- and Spanish-speaking Catholics here,” explained Franciscan Brother Moises Gutierrez, archdiocesan coordinator of Hispanic ministry, who organized the program.

Each day of the immersion program had five parts: Spanish lessons as a group, focus groups (priests and deacons, music directors, catechetical and pastoral ministries), a culinary experience (the class went to a different Hispanic restaurant every day); one-on-one Spanish lessons, and learning about various aspects of Hispanic culture, Brother Moises said. The participants also attended Mass in Spanish every day, and spent one night at a local Latino family’s home to experience how they live.

“For the cultural lessons, we included Hispanic immigration, [Our Lady of] Guadalupe and popular religiosity, Latino traditions, and skills needed to appreciate people from other cultures,” Brother Moises said. “The main goal of the program was to give the participants the skills to feel more comfortable worshiping and ministering with Hispanics in the parishes, and to give them a basic grasp of pastoral Spanish language. The plan was to motivate them to continue finding ways to work on their Spanish and to reach out to Spanish-speaking parishioners.”

Father John McCaslin, pastor of St. Anthony Parish and administrator of Holy Trinity Parish, both in Indianapolis, hosted the classes at neighboring Padua Academy. He was happy to see the immersion experience take place.

“The impetus of this [program] is a growing awareness in our archdiocese of the Latino or Hispanic population, which is a growing segment of our Church,” said Father McCaslin, who is bilingual and ministers to the area’s growing number of Hispanics.

“We want to form leaders of our community to be better prepared, to have a better understanding of the newest members of our community, and also to be ministers of hospitality, which is critical, whether you speak Spanish or not,” he said. “Even a simple phrase can make a huge difference in whether or not someone feels welcome.”

Deacon Ward, who ministers to a significant Hispanic congregation at St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis, attended the weeklong workshop because he wanted to improve his Spanish communications skills and learn more about the Latino culture.

He especially enjoyed spending the night at the home of a Latino family and learning about their culture.

“When we sat down to eat, when we prayed, the whole family included me,” he said. “I felt very welcome. I felt spoiled.”

Dominican Father John Meany, pastor of St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington, said he hopes the experience helps him when he ministers in the future.

“I haven’t studied Spanish for 50 years. When I was in high school was the last time I took Spanish,” he said. “I’m most interested in the pronunciation, at this point, so I can say the Mass.”

Mary Lamperski, a member of St. Mary Parish in Indianapolis, was moved by the immersion program.

“My heart has expanded,” she said. “I want to understand more. I belong to a parish that has a lot of Hispanics, and I want to connect more.”

Teresa Keith, who is director of religious education (DRE) at St. Gabriel Parish in Indianapolis, said she spent a “wonderful” night with a family from the Dominican Republic, and learned a lot about their way of life.

“We really connected because with my ministry as a DRE, the things that I deal with, the sacraments and so forth, I was able to ask them specific questions about their culture and background,” she said.

Jim Kinney, a member of St. Philip Neri Parish in Indianapolis, said his knowledge of Spanish and the Latino culture grew as a result of participating in the immersion experience.

“They really developed a real learning program,” he said of Brother Moises and his colleagues. “What we’re doing would take a couple of semesters [in school], at least, but we’re doing it in a week.”

Brother Moises said the intensive weeklong program was meant as a teaching tool, and he believes it was successful.

“It takes an immersion experience to go to places that otherwise we would never go,” he said.

Lamperski agreed.

“It’s a humbling experience to learn a new language,” she said. “This week has helped me to get through the fear and reluctance to learn.”

Father McCaslin said he hopes those who participated in the immersion experience help build bridges in their faith communities.

“Hopefully, [the participants] are a symbol of an archdiocese that understands the importance of hospitality, that we don’t need to be afraid of our non-English-speaking Catholics,” he said.

“In fact, [the Latinos are] a great gift to the Church. They bring a unique expression of Catholicism that brings new life into our own expression of Catholicism. They bring a new energy to the Church as well, and a great hunger for knowing the faith, as well as a great desire to share it.

“I hope we as a diocese begin to see the giftedness of receiving this new wave of immigrants just like the Church celebrated the various waves in the past. Each new wave brings new gifts to the Church.” †

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