Faith & Family: Missionary sisters helping implement Hispanic ministry at church for area
Published 12:10 am Saturday, May 3, 2014
NATCHEZ — Two Catholic missionaries have spent nearly a year in Natchez ministering to a growing Hispanic population and helping break down barriers between English and Spanish speaking residents.
Sisters Martha Elena Pérez and Irene Lara, who are members of the Guadalupan Missionary Sisters of the Holy Spirit, have been helping implement a Hispanic ministry at Assumption Church.
The ministry, Pérez said, is aimed at sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ to Hispanic families who have migrated to the area with the goal that those families will eventually join the evangelizing mission of the parish.
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“A lot of these people are coming from some of the poorest parts of Mexico or Latin America and have likely not been exposed to any teachings of the Catholic Church before,” Pérez said. “Our goal is to help them understand the word of the Lord, but to also be a source of support and guidance for these people who place to turn.”
Pérez and Lara traveled to Natchez from Los Angeles after the Rev. David O’Connor, who is pastor of St. Mary and Assumption, reached out to the missionary organization.
O’Connor said the goal was to bring the sisters to Natchez for one year to form a human, spiritual and social connection with the Hispanic community in the area.
“The idea was that this group of people need someone who can relate to them culturally and be able to devote time to them that I might not have,” O’Connor said. “I think the people have loved them because they have reached out in a very kind, understanding role.”
The outreach to the Hispanic community isn’t a new thing for O’Connor, the pastor has been offering a Mass in Spanish since 2007 for a group of Hispanic Miss-Lou residents.
O’Connor learned Spanish while in seminary in Ireland, where he is from, and recites the majority of the Mass himself in Spanish.
The Mass started with just a few members and has turned into a weekly service with nearly 14 families attending each Sunday at Assumption.
Pérez said part of their mission also includes dispersing responsibilities of the Mass to those families involved.
The responsibilities can range from music selection to assisting O’Connor translate the homily, a commentary that follows the reading of the scripture, which is similar to a sermon.
“It gives them a sense of ownership of the Mass and makes them feel like it’s their service, instead of having it all done for them,” Pérez said. “At first, they were hesitant to get involved, but now we have a lot more participation from everyone.”
The other significant challenge of the ministry, Pérez said, is simply convincing Hispanic residents to take time to attend the service.
Pérez said the majority of the Hispanic residents in the Miss-Lou work in labor-intensive positions, including construction or housecleaning.
“They’re working long, difficult hours at work and some of them only have Sunday to relax,” Pérez said. “We try and make the service time convenient for them and offer as much support as possible.”
Those who have been attending Mass regularly and who have benefited from the missionary outreach have come to feel more at home at the church and in the community, O’Connor said.
“I think it’s doing quite well, because the Hispanic people are becoming more comfortable communicating in English and simply opening up to others,” O’Connor said. “It’s happening gradually and we’re going to continue maintaining the opportunities for them to gather in their own service, but the ultimate plan is to have them integrate into the congregation when they’re ready.”
The sisters’ one-year stay in Natchez will end in June, but Pérez said the ministry organization could ask them to stay another year.
“That’s being decided as we speak,” Pérez said. “We’ve enjoyed our time here and would like to stay and continue helping the people of Natchez.”