Men and women from throughout the diocese came together to observe Lay Ministry Sunday, March 2.
Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros told those gathered he was happy to spend time among so many familiar faces he recognized from diocesan events and to meet new people who work on the parish level.
“We are aware of your generosity, of your sacrifice for your ministry,” he said. “We thank you.”
Bishop Cisneros led the bilingual (English and Spanish) vespers service at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church, Forest Hills, after a presentation by Dr. Frank Villaronga.
“Sometimes the problem isn’t believing in God but that God believes in us,” said Dr. Villaronga, chairperson of the National Association for Lay Ministry and director of Evangelization and Ministry Formation for the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C.
Addressing hundreds of lay volunteers, he said the ministry can at times be overwhelming, and it may be hard to understand how God can entrust the Gospel and the important work of the Church to lay people. The Church, after all, is an intricate organization spanning ages and dimensions.
“It’s a big Church, but we will find a place for you,” Dr. Villaronga said.
William Pico, a lay minister from Our Lady of the Angelus, Rego Park, said he was impressed by the amount of people who are willing to volunteer for the Church without expectation. When one goes to work, he said, one justly expects payment. Yet all these people have made commitments that they honor in snow, rain and fatigue. Pico said the potential from this enthusiasm is immeasurable.
As part of his presentation, Dr. Villaronga asked those present to share with each other how God has called them to serve.
For Pico, the call came when he saw his six-year-old son serving as an alter boy.
“I just wanted to be up there with him, so I became an usher,” he said.
Dr. Villaronga also asked the ministers how they felt God’s call and what made them answer.
“It’s something one feels in one’s heart – something that perhaps is beyond explanation,” said Reyna Cortes, lay minister at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Astoria.
Lilia Forero, also from Our Lady of Mount Carmel, said the pull to serve the Church has been simple for her.
“I’m happy serving the Lord,” she said.
Theresa Whiteman from St. Teresa of Avila, Prospect Heights, helped lead a youth lock-in at her church, which lasted from 3 p.m. on
Saturday to 1 p.m. on Sunday.
She then went to administer Holy Communion to a sick person and hopped on a train with a fellow minister to Forest Hills for the Lay Ministry Sunday event. She said the pull of the Lord is simply too strong to ignore.
“It’s not being able to say ‘no,’ even if you want to,” she said in good spirit. “Because of the call, you just pick up and go.”
Filiette Guillaume, also from St. Teresa, said she enjoys coming to events sponsored by the diocese. She graduated from the Lay Ministry Program last year.
“Once you are Catholic, you never finish learning,” she said.
She said she was grateful for the experience of being able to spend time with other ministers and hearing Bishop Cisneros. It helped her understand a lay minister’s role in the Church.
After the presentation and prayer, the ministers enjoyed light refreshments. Bishop Cisneros went around to speak and to joke with the different groups that formed in the parish gym.
Whiteman said she appreciated Bishop Cisneros’ presence and enthusiasm. She was grateful to him “for giving us new fuel” to continue in lay ministry.
Gerald Tortorella, director of the Lay Ministry Program and organizer of the event, said people after the event approached him and asked if he could organize a daylong event with Dr. Villaronga. He said he would pursue this possibility.
This is the second year the diocese has offered a formal event on Lay Ministry Sunday. This year was the first time the program was offered in both English and Spanish.