Ways to serve Hispanic parishioners explored

PITTSFORD — What is leadership? What is spirituality? How do you understand and develop the spiritual gifts that God wants you to share in ministry with others?

Those were some of the questions that Rudy Vargas IV explored with the more than 50 participants of the Pastoral Instituto’s spring workshop April 25 at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry. Vargas is the director of Hispanic educational advancement for the Archdiocese of New York’s superintendent’s office and formerly served as executive director of the Northeast Hispanic Catholic Center.

Finding the answers to those questions, Vargas said, will help better equip pastoral leaders in their roles serving the Hispanic parishioners at their churches.

"You have to accompany them, understand the challenges they face," he said before a prayer service that opened the workshop’s session. "Then, you can find ways to better engage with them and keep them engaged with events and activities."

During his morning-long presentation, Vargas also emphasized that to share the love of God in ministry, one must lead by example in living out that love.

"Because when we talk about spirituality, we are talking about the very breath of God in our lives," he said. "We are called to live in communion within a parish. … Are we prepared to serve out those responsibilities?"

He recommended taking on leadership roles in parish groups, such as the parish council or a finance committee, even if that means being a little uncomfortable and having to speak in English, he said. The important thing is that all parishioners are represented within a parish so as to provide equitable treatment and care for all of them.

"We are part of a faith community," he said.

Stepping forward to lead that way won’t always be welcomed by the Anglo community, explained Victor Burgos of Geneva, who said he found the two communities to be like "oil and water" during his time at a parish council. But he understands why the effort is worthwhile to bring these communities together, said the native of Paraguay.

And, he added, Vargas’ presentation offered good advice on how to move in that direction, such as finding opportunities to provide cultural education on traditions and expressions of faith.

"It’s a wonderful experience to unite people," he said.

Recognizing each other’s gifts and talents that God wants us to share is another important part of the spiritual formation of pastoral leaders, Vargas explained. Pastoral ministers also must realize that their gifts and talents are to be used for the glory of God and to do what God intended them for, Vargas added.

"When we use our (God-given) gifts together, we all benefit," he said.

In addition to developing and sharing those gifts, Vargas also talked of the importance of fostering personal relationships with parishioners, which helps them feel valued and want to get more involved in parish life. One should also be with them in good days and in bad, he said. And when working with the Hispanic community, one also must be sensitive to differences in language and culture, Vargas noted.

"We must bring God’s word to the world," he said. "There is no better way to do that than by example."

Good leaders also know when to listen, as shown through Solomon (1 Kings: 3-15), who asked God to teach him how to listen well in order to best lead his people, Vargas explained.

"The first law is the law of love … and to love one another," he said.

Sister Luci Romero, a migrant minister in Wayne County, said that even when such love and friendship is offered, she finds that God sometimes comes second for some parishioners. She often hears excuses — such as, "If I have time" or "If nothing else comes up — when she invites them to participate in some form of faith life.

"That is why it is so difficult to educate ourselves and to lead," she added. "Don’t be afraid to give God your time and attention."

Sara Carbajal said that she wants to become a better leader at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission at St. Gregory Church in Marion. The workshop helped her realize the need to humble oneself as a way to approach others and offer a warm welcome to newcomers at her church, she said.

"The most important thing … is to see God in my brothers and sisters so they can see God in us," she said.

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