By Elsa Baughman
JACKSON – Hispanic leaders of the Diocese of Jackson gathered on Wednesday, March 26, with two goals in mind, to present the reality of each parish and the greatest challenges they have as parish leaders. Bishop Joseph Kopacz, Jeanne Howard, director of the Office of Faith Formation, Cathy Cook, superintendent of Catholic Schools and Msgr. Elvin Sunds, vicar general, were invited to attend the gathering held at the Cathedral Center.
More than 50 leaders of the different parishes and missions which have Hispanic communities, some of them priests and religious, were present. Twenty of them shared what they are doing to serve in their communities, talking about the services they provide and the needs they face.
They all said they are working hard to accomplish their goals, which are many considering the cultural diversity of their communities, the language, the immigration status of their members, their social needs, etc.
Among the positive things the leaders mentioned are having sacramental preparation, increasing the number of leaders who are serving in the parish, religious education classes for the children, English classes, leadership classes through the Southeastern School of Ministry and in some communities the participation in the Catholic Christian Family Life Movement.
Since each community is different their realities are different too. Some have a priest who speaks Spanish, others have one who reads well in Spanish but can’t hear confessions or counsel those who want to talk about their problems.
Almost all the speakers mentioned their desire for more faith formation classes for their leaders who are willing to serve but don’t have the necessary knowledge to do it. In the majority of the parishes they also need help with youth ministry and faith formation for their members.
Father Tarsisius Pulling, pastor of Indianola Immaculate Conception and St. Benedict the Moor parishes, said when people don’t know much about their faith it’s easy for them to join other religious denominations. This is a problem in many areas of the diocese where Hispanics are being invited to other churches which have Hispanic preachers.
Bishop Kopacz sat in the front row, listening and taking notes. He thanked the group for the hard work they are doing in their communities and their collaboration with one another.
“This diocese is incredible,” he said. “A lot of people are working in this ministry. We have an office dedicated to help you in your ministry and a newspaper to keep you informed.”
Bishop Kopacz told them he knows the needs are many and different in each community but something positive in this diocese he said is that “there are many priests who say ‘yes’ to learn Spanish and to serve in their communities. It’s something very special in this diocese,” he said.
He announced that a religious order has agreed to send four priests to work in the Delta for five years, “they are going to be of great help with leadership formation in this area of the diocese,” he pointed out.
During his years of work in the Diocese of Scranton, Bishop Kopacz served in the Hispanic communities and learned about their culture and their needs.
“Together we can build our lives and grow in communion in our faith,” he told the Hispanic leaders. He encouraged all leaders to keep up their good work as Pope Francis has said, to be missionaries in the name of Christ with joy, hope and confidence.
The programs the diocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry include the Catholic Christian Family Movement, the School of Ministry, liturgical and leadership workshops, the diocesan Hispanic Encuentro, the Southeast Pastoral Institute (SEPI) youth leadership, participation in the National Hispanic Encuentro in 2016 and the Integral Pastoral Social Planning in Jackson and Corinth.
Brother Ted Dausch, director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry, said the meeting was also aimed to give leaders an opportunity to know one another, since there are new people working in the diocese, and to listen to each other – an opportunity to go from local to diocesan awareness.
“Although the bishop has traveled much, this is an opportunity for him to experience Hispanic ministry as a whole and listen to those who experience it everyday,” he wrote in the invitation email.