APPLETON — Waking up each day and realizing that what he does has a purpose makes Jimmy Pineda smile. “It brings me joy,” said the regional coordinator for young Latino adults in the Diocese of Green Bay. “I know I’m doing God’s will and that’s the right thing to do.”
Pineda and other young adults and ministers will be acknowledged at the Oct. 14 Jubilee Mass, which is one of 12 Masses being held in honor of the diocese’s 150th anniversary this year.
Pineda, 32, made his way back to his Catholic faith about three years ago. Today, he is leading other young adults back through his ministry, which includes a group called Jornadas, which is especially for young adult Latinos who want to develop or renew their personal relationship with Christ.
“It started three years ago when I decided to come back to the church,” he said. “I had an encounter with God and I felt I needed to get back. I didn’t realize working with young adults would be the way I would go, but working with them has helped me relax a bit. I learned that this is a church of love, not rules.”
Rules are important, he admits, “but once you find the love, the rules are not as heavy.”
“I see so much need in our community for young adults to be involved in our parishes,” Pineda said. “I try to bring a new approach so we can enjoy each other in a safer community, being closer to God and bringing us closer in love.”
Drawing on the writings of Matthew Kelly, founder of Dynamic Catholic, Pineda said he stresses living how Kelly suggests. “I sum this up as ‘finding the best version of you.’
“It’s not easy to do in young adult ministry. There is that struggle for commitment. Sometimes, I have to do a lot of things on my own and pray things will turn out the way I want them to,” he said.
Pineda works with young adults through St. Therese Parish in Appleton and St. Philip Parish in Green Bay. His position with the diocese is part time. He also owns a hair salon in Appleton, where he makes his home.
His own story begins in Mexico, he said. He was 3 when his family came to the United States, settling first in California and then moving to Wisconsin when he was 12. He became a U.S. citizen at age 18. “I felt like we won the lottery when we got to Wisconsin. There were many struggles in California. However, the Wisconsin winters,” he said.
In Wisconsin, he has been able to establish a business of his own.
“I thought: the world offers you materialistic things, such as money. I got that by the age of 28. Then, I realized that was not the answer,” he said. “My mother, a devout Catholic, thought I needed a spiritual dimension in my life. I didn’t know what that meant. I felt so lost.”
His mother helped him find a spiritual director, who has been walking with him for several years. “His approach eventually got to me. It changed everything,” he said. “I realized I had no idea who God was. I knew the name Jesus, but I didn’t know Jesus was love — not until I opened my heart and truly believed he loved me. When I did that, I couldn’t be the same person anymore.”
Pineda admits, “I’m not a saint by any means. I am human, but when I struggle, it doesn’t hurt as much now. I know where to turn. I know with whom to leave my sorrows. It’s not worldly things, but the cross.”
He spent his 30th birthday in Jerusalem. “It was a life-changing experience as well. I was able to touch, feel and wake up in the same place where God had been. I learned you don’t have to travel to holy sites or be in Jerusalem to know or feel God’s love. His presence is in the Eucharistic, in every Mass.”
In July 2017, Pineda attended the national Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando, Fla. About 3,000 Catholic leaders attended and Bishop David Ricken chose to send a delegation of millennials who serve the diocese in different ministries. “I was inspired to know that the church is trying to do something about every topic we want to know about,” Pineda said. “We were able to express how we feel and to understand the church’s view and approach.
“There are still a lot of things we have to work on, but you take it one step at a time, one person at a time,” he said. “I may not be able to change the world, but I may change someone’s view. That’s enough for me.”