Hispanic parents enlist youth for parish ministries

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | April 30, 2015

Through Discípulos de Cristo program, St. Willebrord families put faith into action

GREEN BAY — Juanita Fiscal and her husband, Julio Zúñiga, enrolled in the Discípulos de Cristo lay formation program, sponsored by the Diocese of Green Bay, three years ago. As members of St. Willebrord Parish, they wanted to learn more about their faith.

Julianna Zuniga and Angel Arjon carry a basket with CRS Rice Bowls in procession during Mass at St. Willebrord Church in Green Bay April 26. The rice bowls held donations that members of Amigos de Jesus, the St. Willebrord youth group, raised during Lent. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)
Julianna Zuniga and Angel Arjon carry a basket with CRS Rice Bowls in procession during Mass at St. Willebrord Church in Green Bay April 26. The rice bowls held donations that members of Amigos de Jesus, the St. Willebrord youth group, raised during Lent. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

“We were lacking so much knowledge about our Catholic faith, especially about the Mass,” Fiscal said in an interview with The Compass. “We are here almost every Sunday, and not knowing exactly what was happening or the meaning of certain things — that was embarrassing.”

As they prepare for graduation from Discípulos on May 3, along with 16 other Latino Catholics from around the diocese, Juanita said the program not only taught them all about the Mass, it inspired them to start a youth program with other parents at St. Willebrord, “Amigos de Jesus” (Friends of Jesus), to help children learn about the Mass and participate in liturgical roles.

As part of the Discípulos de Cristo program, participants are asked to return to their parishes and find a way to put their faith into practice. “We noticed that we needed some type of program that would bring those kids who made their first Communion” back to church by getting them involved in Sunday liturgies, said Fiscal.

“Another person said, ‘What if we also teach those kids the sequence of the Mass, like everything that happens during the Mass?’” she noted. While this is covered in religious education classes, they wanted to go more in-depth, Fiscal said. “We decided to do both things: to teach them how to serve during Mass and then to teach them about the celebration of Mass.”

Amigos de Jesus started last October. Eight adults (including five in the Discípulos program) and 38 students, ranging in age from 4 to 13, meet at the church for two hours every other Saturday. Fiscal said the group uses books about the Mass, written in Spanish, provided by the parish, as well as ones she’s purchased. They also use materials, revised for children, from the Discípulos program.

After studying, the children practice their ministry roles, which include altar serving, lectoring, ushering, choir singing and bringing up the eucharistic gifts.

Norbertine Fr. Andrew Cribben, pastor of St. Willebrord Parish, said he is delighted to have the parents take an active role in preparing their children for Mass and getting them involved in the liturgy.

“Juanita and her collaborators from Discípulos de Cristo … wanted to use their growing knowledge of the sacraments, theology and their spirituality for the good of others,” he said. “They had heard my desire, as pastor, that the children might be more attentive and participative at the Eucharist. The group prepares the children first to know and appreciate the Eucharist, and then to know and fulfill the ministries of reader, usher, greeter, singer and member of the assembly.”

Their first service at Mass took place in December. “Then Fr. Andy told us to participate in the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” said Fiscal. The Amigos de Jesus now participate at the Spanish Mass the fourth Sunday of each month.

The group has plans for other events. They have been invited to St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Manitowoc and St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Newton to demonstrate their liturgical roles and encourage youth from those parishes to get involved.

Fiscal sees the group doing community outreach, such as visiting nursing home residents and, during the holidays, visiting children at local hospitals and presenting them with gifts.

Fiscal said handing down the faith to her children is one gift that she and her husband now know they can provide, thanks to Discípulos and the Amigos de Jesus.

“We are not rich people. We don’t have money, so what are we going to leave to our kids? What are they going to inherit?” she said. “We decided that faith, teaching them, especially about the Mass,” will be the legacy they leave their children.

“Discípulos gives us the basics with so many things about our religion. Mass is one of them,” she said.

Juanita and Julio have five children: Julio, 10, Julissa, 9, Julianna, 6, Joanna, 4, and Jose, 5 months.

When she and Julio started in the Discípulos program, she said, their children were not part of the experience. “So doing this as a family (with Amigos de Jesus) and the rest of the Discípulos members” makes the experience of church a family affair.

It is also a way to get other parents who do not come to church back to attending Mass. “We are hearing comments from some of the parents of kids, ‘Now I have to come to Mass because my child is participating in this,’” she said.

“We want (youth) to feel this program is dynamic, fun and social — a program where they are not only learning everything about the Eucharist, but also where they are reaching out to those in need from our community.”

Fr. Cribben sees Amigos de Jesus as a way to bring young members into the faith community.

“The children want to be involved in the dynamics and the ministries of the Eucharist. The involvement requires them to know and understand more about the Eucharist beyond what they learned in preparation for first Communion,” he said. “In a way, they want to know more about the gestures, the movements, the words, the responses and the responsibilities within the Mass.”

By doing so, he said, “they become better at prayer and worship. They become better servants to the community. This is good for the whole parish, now and into the future.”

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