“People of faith want to reach out to other people,” says Father Gustavo Falla, pastor of St. Benedict-Our Lady of Montserrat Parish in Stamford and nearby St. Mary Parish.
“I have seen faith in action, people whose personal testimony of faith is touching hearts, touching lives. Faith teaches us that we are not alone—we are all together. Giving is not limited to things financial, but where there are people of faith, funds will always be available. People of faith will always be generous.”
Father Falla, who is also episcopal vicar for Hispanics in the Diocese of Bridgeport, notes that the deep faith of Hispanic Catholics is making an impact on the life of the Church in Fairfield County. Of the 400 candidates and catechumens preparing to enter the Catholic Church at the Rite of Election the first Sunday in Lent, the majority were Spanish-speaking Catholics from both inner city and suburban parishes, many of them young adults.
St. Mary’s and St. Benedict-Montserrat presented an overwhelming number of candidates and catechumens, followed by other traditionally Hispanic parishes such as St. Peter and St. Charles Borromeo in Bridgeport and Our Lady of Guadalupe in Danbury. The devotion to the faith among Spanish-speaking Catholics includes support, both financially and with their time and talents, to their parish and to the wider diocese.
Andres and Judy Grajales are parishioners at Sacred Heart Parish in Stamford. “About four years ago our pastor, Father Alfonso Picone, did a community survey and recognized how many Spanish-speaking people lived in the neighborhood. He got permission from Bishop Caggiano to start offering Mass in Spanish,” recalls Andres, who spoke on the ACA video this year.
As more and more Hispanic Catholics began attending Mass at Sacred Heart, Andres and Judy realized that, while the parish had an active social life, little was offered in Spanish. With the encouragement of Father Picone, they began an RCIA process in Spanish.
“We believe strongly that faith leads to outreach,” says Judy. “The Holy Spirit pushes you to action.”
Listening to the comments of candidates in RCIA, and to Spanish-speaking parishioners hungry for more knowledge of their faith, Andres and Judy realized that more was needed. They organized Life in the Spirit Seminars designed to help parishioners develop a deeper relationship with the Lord.
Life in the Spirit Seminars offer a chance for Christians to explore a fuller life in the Holy Spirit. By this point, the Grajales’ have seen nearly 800 people complete the seven-week courses.
This past year, they began offering a Friday night prayer group in Spanish. “If you hear the Word of God in your native language, it has a bigger impact on your heart,” says Judy, explaining the need for these programs.
In looking at the wider Church, Andres draws a practical parallel all families can understand. “At home, the lights cannot turn on if you aren’t financially responsible. The Church is God’s home and our home. That’s true of the parish, and of the programs helping so many people all over the diocese. We have to do our part. If we are responsible, the lights will go on for people all over Fairfield County.”
At the largely Hispanic parish of St. Benedict-Our Lady of Montserrat, Julio and Liliana Sanchez express the same sentiment. They, too, are shown on the appeal video. They lead a weekend-long retreat every month, based on the John Paul II School of Evangelization. The goal of the program is the formation of parishioners to become lay leaders who will go out in service to the parish and the diocese wherever they are needed.
“The energy of people of faith is the Holy Spirit,” says Julio. “It brings us the energy to go out and help others. The Mass and the Scriptures aren’t something to be heard and forgotten. If people open their heart, they will get involved more often. In their parishes they may become readers or eucharistic ministers. From there they’ll want to reach out into the community and help everybody.”
“The appeal is one way people can do that,” adds Liliana. “It’s an important way to help people in the community.” As a parent with young daughters, she points in particular to the Bishop’s Scholarship Fund to assist families in affording a Catholic education for their children. Helping the poor through soup kitchens in the diocese is another service that touches her heart. “If I had more time, I’d like to be doing that every week.”
Liliana feels that the ACA video, with its emphasis on personal witness, speaks powerfully to Catholics who see it. “When people see a familiar face, they are more likely to respond. Now, when people come up to me after Mass, I tell them that we can do great things together. God gives you everything. Even if all you can give back is a little bit, a person who doesn’t have food is eating right now because of you.”
(For more information or to donate to the Annual Catholic Appeal, contact Pam Rittman: email@example.com or 203.416.1479.)