In preparation for Holy Week, nearly 600 Latin American lay ministers from parishes throughout the diocese met at the Immaculate Conception Center, Douglaston, April 16 to replenish the faith that drives them to serve their communities.
“The Hispanic people have a great devotion to the Cross of Christ and to Our Blessed Mother,” said Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros, vicar for Hispanic affairs, who attended the one-day retreat.
“This is allowing them to better understand the mystery of the cross and the mystery of Mary’s motherhood.”
Father Hugh Gillespie, S.M.M., led the retreatants in contemplation of Mary’s role in the passion of Christ. Having extensive experience working with Latin Americans both in the missions to Nicaragua and in the diocese, Father Gillespie was not only able to deliver his message in their native language, but was also aware of the cultural differences relating to worship.
“It is not just a difference of language,” he said. “It is a difference in the manner of devotional presence. With a Latin American audience, they tend to be more vocally responsive. With an Anglo audience, they tend to be more quiet.”
He said that Latin Americans are more tied to symbols and symbolic gestures. This can be seen during holy days. Father Gillespie, the assistant pastor at St. Mary Gate of Heaven, Ozone Park, explained that the Hispanic community there have two processions on Holy Friday: the main one imitates Jesus’ way of the cross and a smaller procession walks the footsteps of Mary. The two meet for the fourth station: Jesus meets His mother.
“Wherever there is a celebration of the Lord,” Father Gillespie said speaking about the Hispanic community, “there is a place set aside with consideration for Our Lady.”
The participants seemed to appreciate the unique perspective that Father Gillespie, a member of the Montfort community, was sharing with them.
“I came here to receive the word of God and I have learned much,” said Reyna Cortes, a parishioner of St. Fidelis, College Point.
The day’s schedule also included a meal, Scripture readings complemented by harp and violin players, the Stations of the Cross and the rosary. During the closing liturgy, seminarians played the piano and sang.
This is the 29th year that lay ministers from the Hispanic community in Brooklyn and Queens have gathered for this retreat. The event started with 40 people out of a necessity to address the needs of an ever-growing Hispanic community.
Deacon Ramon Lima, assistant to Bishop Cisneros, who has organized the events from their beginning, said the biannual retreat is meant to help lay ministers serve the community as a whole. He said the growing Hispanic community enriches the entire diocese and language barriers are not unbreakable. The retreats are in Spanish, he said, not to create a distinction between the Hispanic and the greater diocesan community, but because it helps the attendees in their spiritual growth.
“The liturgy is better expressed in a personal way,” he said. “We worship better in our own language.”
Deacon Manuel Brahoma, of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Astoria, said he sees strong communication and a willingness to work together among the different ethnic communities of his parish. He said the retreat will be beneficial to more than just the Hispanic community because the participants will share their experiences and renewed energy with all their fellow parishioners.
Carmen Rodriguez from St. Fidelis, College Point, said that at times there are difficulties in communication for members of the Hispanic community. For instance, although St. Fidelis hosts inter-cultural events, she said some people who do not speak English do not wish to attend for fear of miscommunication. However, she said she has found the parish to be very accepting.
“I always felt welcome by the community because I came to see how I can be of service and not to look for a way to be served,” she said.