Parish marks 10 years of ministry to Hispanic Catholics in Green Bay

Bishop Ricken joins SS. Peter and Paul Parish for Spanish Mass

GREEN BAY — SS. Peter and Paul Parish celebrated its first Mass for the Spanish speaking community on Feb. 2, 2011, following several months of preparation. “There were 24 congregants in attendance” at that Mass, said Michael Lee, the parish’s faith formation coordinator.

Last Sunday, Feb. 2, the parish celebrated the 10th year of outreach to Hispanic Catholics. This time, the church, which seats 450 people, was filled.

Bishop David Ricken recites a prayer before the opening procession of Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Church in Green Bay on Sunday, Feb. 2. Also pictured are Franciscan Fr. Tony Cirignani, left, pastor, and Franciscan Fr. Ponciano Macabalo, parochial vicar. The Mass, celebrated in Spanish, marked the parish’s 10th anniversary of outreach to the Hispanic community. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

Bishop David Ricken joined Franciscan Fr. Tony Cirignani, pastor, and Franciscan Fr. Ponciano Macabalo, parochial vicar, for a Spanish Mass to mark a decade of ministry to Latino Catholics. The liturgy, held on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, included a brief portrayal of Joseph and Mary (played by parishioners Jose Ferrer Nieto and America Nungaray) presenting the infant Jesus (Juan Mateo Jacome) to Simeon (Mario Arroyo) at the temple. The play was based on the day’s Gospel from Luke.

In his homily, which he delivered in Spanish, Bishop Ricken commended the growth of Hispanic ministry at the parish and thanked Fr. Cirignani and the parish staff for making it happen.

Prior to Mass, Lee told The Compass that once outreach to Latino Catholics became known in the community, “it just mushroomed.”

“We usually have 300 or more people on a Sunday,” for the 12:30 p.m. Spanish Mass, he said. “And then on big feasts there will be 500 or more.”

Lee said the parish has been revitalized in many ways. “It brings a dimension to things I like to see,” he said. For example, he said the Caucasian and Latino communities are sharing their customs.

“One of the neatest things is every year we do a first Communion Mass,” he said. “Last year we had the practice for Spanish and English Masses (at the same time), and one of the Hispanic parents asked, ‘Are we going to be able to have padrinos (sponsors)?’ I said yes.”

After one English-speaking family asked what padrinos were, “one of the parents said, ‘Well, can we have those, too?’ I said, sure, it could be an uncle, a brother, a godparent, an aunt,” recalled Lee. “When the day came, every one of the English-speaking kids had padrinos for their ‘primero comuñon’ (first Communion). That was an example of the sharing of the cultures. They learned something.”

Fr. Cirignani described the growth of Hispanic outreach as phenomenal. “What’s happened, I believe, is internal growth. The folks who are in the area for many years have now formulated this new community with the help of the diocese and with Sr. Martha (Escobar) over the years, but especially the last two years.”

The pastor said it was Bishop Ricken’s request for him to begin outreach to Hispanics in the neighborhoods near SS. Peter and Paul Church soon after Fr. Cirignani was assigned to the parish in July 2010. “After the third pastoral council meeting with me as their new pastor, the council recommended for me to start an outreach to our Hispanic neighbors,” he said. “They said to me it was important to help them welcome the Spanish-speaking community. I saw this as a confirmation to what the bishop asked me to consider.”

The parish began making home visits to invite people to church. “We started visiting many of the first Hispanic members who live just north of us in large trailer courts off Baird Street,” said Fr. Cirignani. “I believe the one-on-one visits with myself and English and Spanish persons helped, and our pastoral council named our evangelization committees ‘Catholic missionary disciples of Jesus Christ.’”

Fr. Cirignani said the increase in Hispanic families has hastened the need for Spanish-speaking ministers. “At present, we have two possible deacon candidates from our Hispanic community,” he said. “As we move into this 10th year, I hope and pray that as our people feel more and more confident, and go through the leadership experience that the diocese (provides), the community will continue to grow into missionary family disciples of Christ.”

He said now is the time for Hispanic parishioners to come forward and “take a shared ownership of their bilingual parish community.”

Just as the community has grown, Fr. Cirignani said he has experienced growth in his ministry. “I’ve been tested, but I’ve also grown in a sense of relationship. It’s that personal relationship that’s very important,” he said, while greeting families following Mass.

VIEW MORE PHOTOS: To view additional photos from the Feb. 2 Mass, visit our Flickr album.