Hispanic ministry grows in Appleton

By | March 10, 2010

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Elizabeth Villagomez and Cruz Primitivo carry a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe outside St. Therese Church in Appleton last December. The Hispanic community’s growth in northeast Wisconsin signalled a need for outreach ministry to the community. Thanks to funding from the Bishop’s Appeal, Carlos Herrera Alvarez serves as Hispanic ministry coordinator at St. Therese Parish. (Kasi Koshollek | For The Compass)

“The Hispanic community desires to create and to increase their spiritual life,” he says. “They want to discover their personal and spiritual gifts. This ministry means they can do that while living out and preserving their cultural values.”

The history of funding for Herrera’s ministry through the Bishop’s Appeal goes back many years. Originally the diocese reached out to the growing Hispanic community in the Fox Valley with a Sunday afternoon Mass at St. Gabriel Parish in Neenah. But as the community grew, it needed more than a Mass. It needed pastoral care. Since the Hispanic population came from all over the Fox Valley, a petition for help from the diocese was issued.

That petition heralded the beginning of funding by the Bishop’s Appeal. The community also needed a permanent home. Because many Hispanics live nearby, St. Therese welcomed them. Today, the ministry sponsored through St. Therese encompasses an extensive territory. Hispanic people from Appleton, Menasha, Neenah, Little Chute and Kaukauna participate regularly. People from as far away as New London and Omro occasionally receive permission from their parishes to celebrate the sacraments at St. Therese.

This year alone, 15 catechumens are preparing to formally enter the Catholic Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) at St. Therese Parish at the Easter Vigil. In addition, 75 students have celebrated their first Eucharist and 130 baptisms have been celebrated. There are also 14 “quinceañeras,” girls who affirm and formally celebrate their faith upon reaching their 15th birthday.

In addition to ministering to Hispanic people through religious education and preparation for the sacraments, St. Therese also offers Hispanic youth ministry, Bible study, a prayer group, retreats, fund-raisers, workshops, classes and special events such as celebrations for Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Theresa, All Souls (Día de los Muertos) and Christmas (Las Posadas).

Herrera also coordinates training for extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, hospitality ministers, altar servers, choirs, catechists and baptism preparation.

He says 10 parishioners have been participating in the Green Bay Diocese’s Discípulos de Cristo, a Hispanic version of the Commissioned Ministry program. This three-year program requires over 200 hours of classroom time — plus homework, group presentations and exams — to not only feed each participant’s personal spiritual growth and development, but also to provide the Catholic theology, Scripture, doctrine and spirituality necessary to grow as confident leaders in their respective parishes.

Carlos began his ministry in Guadalajara, working with immigrants from South America as well as the indigenous people of Mexico. “I accepted the invitation to come to Wisconsin because I was able to continue working with immigrants,” he says. “St. Therese is the first place Hispanic people come to worship and to find friends, shelter and work.”

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