March 3, 2023

The love of a woman and the love of God reveal the heart of the new leader of pastoral ministries

Paul Sifuentes, the new executive director of pastoral ministries for the archdiocese, and his wife Alexa pose for a photo with their six children: Luke, Victoria, Peter, Natalie, Regina and Maria. (Submitted photo)

Paul Sifuentes, the new executive director of pastoral ministries for the archdiocese, and his wife Alexa pose for a photo with their six children: Luke, Victoria, Peter, Natalie, Regina and Maria. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

The essence of life and faith for Paul Sifuentes is the power of relationships, an essence that comes through when the new executive director of pastoral ministries for the archdiocese talks about two defining parts of his life: his relationship with the woman he hoped would become his wife, and his relationship with the God he strives to make the center of his world.

Start with the story of how he first became friends with Alexa Puscas.

It’s a story that reveals part of the heart that Sifuentes brings to leading the archdiocese’s pastoral ministries, an umbrella group that includes Youth Ministry, Intercultural Ministry, Young Adult and College Campus Ministry, the Office of Human Life and Dignity, and the Office of Marriage and Family Life.

When they first met, Sifuentes and Puscas were both in their junior year at the University of Notre Dame, studying abroad in London. During their semester there, they joined a group of about 30 students that began praying the rosary every night. As the weeks passed, the number of students dwindled until it was just the two of them praying the rosary each day.

They became close friends, but it wasn’t more than that because, at different times, they were dating other people.

They even grew apart for a while until they connected again after college—a connection that eventually developed into a romantic relationship by the fall of 2007 when they both served as lay ministers in Indianapolis, she as the director of religious education at St. Pius X Parish, he as the director of youth ministry at St. Simon the Apostle Parish.

“I knew I wanted to marry this girl for a long time, but I wanted to discern that. So, I was trying to find a prayer to discern marriage with her. I Googled, ‘discernment prayer, rosary,’ and the first thing that pops up is a 54-day rosary novena. I was like, ‘OK, that’s an option, but let’s look for something shorter,’ ” Sifuentes recalls with a laugh.

As his search continued, he even thought about the two of them designing their own marriage discernment prayer, something that would include the rosary “because that’s what brought us together, and it’s a big part of our relationship.”

“I came up with nothing else. I told her, ‘I found this 54-day rosary novena.’ And I was about to say, ‘But …’ But before I could say it, she said, ‘That’s perfect.’ ”

The 54 days of praying the rosary together to discern if they should marry—“Lord, is this what you want us to do?” Sifuentes explains—eventually led to an unforgettable moment inside St. Simon the Apostle Church. It happened as they prayed the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary together during their shared time of eucharistic adoration.

After they finished the first decade of the rosary and right before they started to pray the second decade of the Luminous Mysteries—recalling the wedding feast at Cana—Sifuentes proposed to Puscas. And she said yes.

They have been married for 14 years, they are the parents of six children—ranging in age from 12 years to 3 months—and they still pray the rosary together.

Embracing the gift, breaking down in tears

Fast forward to an early February day in Colorado this year when Sifuentes’ relationship with God came into a clearer focus for him—another story which shows the heart he brings to leading the archdiocese’s pastoral ministries.

The impact came as he attended a presentation by Bishop Joseph A. Espaillat, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York, during a conference of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.

One of the central themes of the bishop’s presentation was how lay ministers need to set aside time to pray for the people they minister “to and with”—and to pray for God’s guidance for themselves, too. He also encouraged the audience members to always remember “we are the sons and daughters of God” first.

That thought seared into Sifuentes’ heart and mind, leading to an emotional moment that left him in tears later when Bishop Espaillat made an invitation to people during eucharistic adoration.

“He said, ‘If you feel orphaned, and you really want to claim your sonship or your daughtership with God, I want you to move closer,’ ” Sifuentes recalls. “I came closer.

“I’m very blessed with great parents and my in-laws have been amazing parents to me as well. But that will always pale in comparison to the love of the Father. It’s a great gift from God when you experience that love.”

As tears streamed from his eyes during that moment in Colorado, Sifuentes thought about why he had come forward, and why the wave of emotion overcame him.

“I think it was more of me forgetting who my Father was,” he recalls. “Being like a faithful servant rather than a beloved son was a little bit of where I was. It’s just life. Life gets busy. As a husband and father, you’re working from, ‘What do I need to do? What do I need to take care of? Who do I need to take care of? How am I partnering with my wife?’ And now I’m in this position that I’m really excited about, but what do I need to do?”

He found that the answers to all those questions came by focusing on his relationship with God first.

“I’m a son of the Father who is trying to be a faithful disciple of Christ who is also God,” he says. “Seeing myself as a beloved of the Lord is critical to my spiritual life. When I get off of that is normally when I need to reorient myself. And that is what we need to do with lay ministries in our pastoral ministry. We need well-formed lay ministers, but when they don’t recognize themselves as a beloved son or a beloved daughter of God, that’s when I think we can be in trouble.”

‘It’s all about relationships’

Sifuentes believes that when lay ministers embrace that they are loved by God, they’ll be better prepared to walk with the people they are trying to bring closer to God.

“In pastoral ministries, our role is one of accompaniment. At different times and at different times of life, we find ways to accompany individuals whether that’s through their marriage prep, in their marriage, as they experience the difficulties of marriage, or when they’ve experienced the cruelties of life, if you will. All of these are how we are walking alongside these individuals.”

It all leads to the essence of life and faith for Sifuentes, the offer that Christ makes to all who seek to follow him.

“In essence, the Lord is offering us his presence. He wants to be with us. He thirsts for us, as Mother Teresa would always point out.

“In pastoral ministries, we want to help parishes and parish staffs see that as well, making sure that they’re aware of the critical goal that is. Our ministry is about people and not about programs. It’s all about relationships. And all those relationships will be fruitful when the relationship with the Lord is in order.” †


Related story: Family life offers a continuing lesson in accompaniment for new leader

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