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Hispanics are a Growing Part of Why Catholic? in the Archdiocese of Louisville

Glenn Rutherford, Record Editor

The launch of the archdiocesan-wide Why Catholic? program includes a determined effort to bring the fruits of the RENEW International program to the local Hispanic community.

From parishes in Louisville with active and vital Hispanic ministries to those in central Kentucky where the Hispanic population has been growing for years, training and organizational sessions have been held in recent weeks.

Deacon Frank Villalobos, director of Hispanic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Louisville Office of Multicultural Ministry, said response to Why Catholic? among Hispanics has been very good.

“I’m pretty sure that once we start, or in some cases now that we’ve started, and more and more people hear about the program, more people will get involved,” he said last week. We had our last training session on February 26, and now people are receiving their books. And come the fall we’ll have even more people involved.”

Among the parishes reaching out to the Hispanic community with Why Catholic? programs, Deacon Villalobos said, are Immaculate Conception Church in LaGrange, Ky., Annunciation Church in Shelbyville, Ky., St. James Church in Elizabethtown, Ky., Our Lady of Mercy Church in Hodgenville, Ky. — which is working with St. James Church — and in Louisville, St. Rita, St. Bartholomew, St. Edward, Holy Name, St. Joseph and Epiphany churches.

“I know at Annunciation in Shelbyville, the interest has been really, really good, and we have about eight small groups,” the deacon said. “We trained about 30 small group leaders, and at Annunciation, we’re going to see if offering the program in the summertime, too, is something the people might want.”

Identifying leadership is one key to getting such a program up and running, said Father Mike Tobin, pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Hodgenville.

“Our community here is almost entirely from one state in Mexico,” he explained, “and it’s a community that for whatever reason has fewer resources for leadership and growth than the Hardin County community.”

Hispanic communities in Shelbyville, at Annunciation, and in Elizabethtown at St. James — as well as at St. Rita and St. Bartholomew churches in Louisville — are blessed with the leadership that’s needed, he said. “And leadership is something that you might take for granted at a suburban parish, for instance, but is sometimes more difficult to identify in a parish such as ours in Hodgenville,” Father Tobin said.

That’s one reason that Why Catholic? presents such an opportunity, he noted. Leaders can be trained and encouraged. Ricardo Benitez in Elizabethtown is such a leader, he said. (Unfortunately, efforts by The Record to reach Benitez prior to publication deadline were unsuccessful.)

Manuel Hernandez of RENEW International conducted the leadership training sessions in Central Kentucky and said the turnout for the training sessions — and the people signing up for the small groups — represent significant numbers within the Hispanic community.

“The Hispanic community throughout the entire archdiocese is small but it’s getting big, and it’s very spread out,” he said last week in a telephone interview from his office in New Jersey. “And these communities are relatively new and relatively small, though the numbers are growing. That makes finding leadership a little harder.”

Lynn Ekstrom, director of catechetics and formation at St. Edward Church, said the parish is holding its Why Catholic? sessions on Mondays following the regularly scheduled Spanish Mass.

“We’re doing it as a whole community catechesis model,” she explained. “We take the whole family, all ages, because they come as families to our Monday night Mass.”

The program so far has about 30 adults and a like number of children, about a dozen or so of high school age, the rest younger.

“We break down the adults into small groups, and we read everything aloud together, in groups of three or four,” Ekstrom said. “It’s really working well for our families. Because babysitting is a problem for younger families, the way we’re approaching things helps them. And the people who are taking part are thrilled.

“They tell me that they feel wonderful to be so connected to the universal church,” she added. “They take great comfort in knowing that while they are doing Why Catholic? in Spanish, others in their parish are doing the same thing in English. But the important thing to them is that the whole church is doing this together. They’re so happy to be a part of that.”

At St. Bartholomew Church, where Tom Gurucharri leads ministry to Hispanics, plans are to begin their participation in the program in about two weeks.

He said plans were to start the program among the Hispanic community on March 21. “I think we’ll have about a dozen women who have expressed some interest,” he said. “I think it will grow over time. It’s kind of a new concept for them, for Hispanics to be asked to express opinions and talk about experiences. As they get comfortable sharing their experiences, I think it will grow.”

Gurucharri said he was using the same plan Lynn Ekstrom “put together at St. Edward’s, but we’re doing it separately.”

Like others involved in the effort, he noted that Why Catholic? was giving those involved in ministry to the Hispanic community a chance to identify leaders.

“This is bringing out some people we didn’t know or hadn’t identified,” he said, “people who are stepping up and saying ‘oh, yeah, I’d love to do this.’ When we get the first one done and others see that it isn’t threatening to them, then more people will become involved.”

This article appeared in The Record, the Catholic newspaper of the Archdiocese of Louisville and is used with permission.