ALLOUEZ — The Catholic faith has been a central part of Roberto Gallegos’s life since his childhood days in Cuquio, Mexico. When he moved to Green Bay in 1994, after 21 years in Long Beach, Calif., to work at a local meat plant, his faith continued to guide Gallegos.
A member of St. Willebrord Parish in Green Bay, where he plays the guitar and sings in the choir for Spanish Masses, Gallegos decided in 2006 to take an important step in learning more about and sharing his faith. He enrolled in the newly-established Discípulos de Cristo, a lay formation program for Spanish-speaking Catholics.
“It was important for me to study more about my religion,” said Gallegos, “to know more because I wanted to serve more efficiently in the church.”
Gallegos was part of the first graduating class of Discípulos in 2009. He said the weekend classes, which focused on spirituality, Scripture, theology and pastoral ministry, were opportunities to better serve others in his parish.
“They gave us classes in the Old Testament and New Testament and I enriched my faith and my knowledge,” said Gallegos. “They explained to us each part of Mass, and they trained people how to serve at the altar.”
The training he received through Discípulos benefited Gallegos after he joined Norbertine Fr. Ken De Groot, Sr. Melanie Maczka, a member of the Society of Sisters for the Church, and other St. Willebrord parishioners in offering monthly Spanish Masses to a small community of Hispanic Catholics at St. Anne Church in Coleman four years ago. Every first Saturday of the month, Gallegos is part of a choir team that provides music for the Spanish Masses.
Gallegos said he has encouraged other Spanish-speaking Catholics to enroll in Discípulos.
“A lot of people are interested. They think it’s long, but it’s not,” he said. “Many lay ministers have the basic knowledge to serve in church. The church appreciates a lot the people who volunteer, but they don’t have the preparation like this program offers. It’s good that people help, but we need to be educated or trained by professional people.”
His experience led Gallegos to enroll in the new Apóstoles de Cristo program, which is a two-year program offered by the diocese for graduates of Discípulos de Christo.
“Discípulos is (meant) to enrich your faith and know more about serving (in ministry roles at Mass) and to know the Old and New Testament,” said Gallegos. “In Apóstoles, they teach about how to visit the sick, how to do a Communion service when the deacon or priest is not there, and to lead a funeral service. It is very important to learn parish leadership.”
Gallegos is set to graduate from Apóstoles on May 5 with seven other Hispanic lay ministers. Just as he was part of the first graduating class from Discípulos, Gallegos said he is happy to be part of the first Apóstoles graduating class.
“I feel proud,” he said. “I give thanks to God to have the time to keep going.”
Gallegos said both Discípulos and Apóstoles help prepare Catholics as missionary disciples, a theme Bishop David Ricken has promoted through “Disciples on the Way.”
“It’s the same thing that Bishop Ricken is saying, to make disciples” by discovering, following, worshipping and sharing Jesus, he said.
Another way Gallegos has grown closer to his faith has been through his employment with the building and maintenance team for the Diocese of Green Bay. He has worked at the diocesan offices for the past four years. “I love to work here because I work and practice my faith,” he said. “There are not too many jobs where you can do these two things at the same time.”
Gallegos said he would like to see more people take advantage of the faith formation offerings provided by the diocese.
“We have a lot of Spanish-speaking people here attending other churches, like SS. Peter and Paul and St. Philip (in Green Bay). I don’t know if we need to announce more, to talk more about it,” he said. “All of these classes are sponsored by the Bishop’s Appeal and we need to give thanks to the bishop because he is the one who helps us to enrich our faith.”