Embracing diversity: Diocese strives to meet varying needs of Catholics


By Barb Arland-Fye

Dancers helped Our Lady of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 9, 2012. The feast is one of the most important holidays of the year for Catholics with Mexican heritage.

Presentations on multicultural ministry and youth/young adult ministry were the focus of the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) quarterly meeting July 27.
Father Joseph Sia, administrator of two parishes with significant Spanish-speaking populations — St. Joseph’s in Columbus Junction and in West Liberty — provided DPC members with an overview of multicultural ministry through a spiritual lens.
“He gave a wonderful presentation to the diocesan directors. I thought it was important that we hear (his presentation) to understand what’s going on, particularly with the Hispanic community in the diocese,” Bishop Martin Amos said. He noted that the Davenport Diocese had just hired a coordinator of multicultural ministries, Miguel Moreno, who will begin work in mid-September.
Bishop Amos also introduced Don Boucher, the diocese’s new coordinator for youth and young adult ministry, who gave a presentation after Fr. Sia.
“As Bishop Amos said, we have different multicultural groups in our diocese,” Fr. Sia reiterated. They include Hispanics, Vietnamese, and Burmese, among others. Because Hispanics make up the largest ethnic group in the diocese, Fr. Sia focused his report on Hispanic ministry.
He shared the history of Hispanics in the Davenport Diocese, based on the book “Seasons of Growth: History of the Diocese of Davenport, 1881-1981” by Sister Madeleine Marie Schmidt, CHM. He buttressed his report with statistics from the State Data Center of Iowa and sacramental records of parishes providing Hispanic ministry.
Statistics help underscore diversity within the Hispanic community, in terms of age, education, occupation, country of origin, and whether they’re first, second or third-generation immigrants.
The priest gave examples of cultural and religious practices, such as the celebration of a Hispanic female’s 15th birthday, or quinceañera, with a special blessing in the church. “It’s a great opportunity for evangelization,” he observed. He encourages participants in the celebration to go to confession beforehand.
Fr. Sia said Hispanic population rose 91 percent in Iowa from 2000-2011 and that population is expected to continue growing in the coming decades.
“What are you suggesting for the diocese?” DPC member Clarence Darrow of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport asked. “If you were bishop, what would you do?”
Fr. Sia responded: Get information out to Catholics throughout the diocese to increase awareness about Hispanic Catholics and ministry needs, encourage diocesan seminarians to learn Spanish and get Spanish-speaking Catholic men into the permanent diaconate program, among other things.
Those recommendations are being implemented in the diocese, Bishop Amos said, noting that very serious discussion is continuing about how to attract Spanish-speaking  Catholic men to the permanent diaconate. The bishop also praised the diocese’s immigration department, which does outstanding work in striving to reunify families, which is an important element in ministry.
DPC member Ruth Skeens, director of evangelization and renewal for parishes in Burlington and West Burlington, thanked Fr. Sia for heightening awareness about Hispanic Catholics. “We have to reach out to them more than we have in the past,” she observed.
DPC member Ken Miller of St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf asked Fr. Sia whether older Spanish-speaking Catholics have a strong desire to hold on to the culture from their homeland.
Fr. Sia said older Hispanic Catholics do celebrate their cultural traditions, and Anglo Catholics should be conscious of the need for all people to celebrate their heritage.
Lien Truong, a DPC member and Vietnamese assistant at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, noted that preparing and serving traditional foods helps make the connection to one’s homeland. “In a way, they do retain that culture and tradition in the family,” she added.
Ted Taylor, a DPC member from St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, sees an opportunity to tap into the spirituality that Hispanic Catholics can offer the larger Catholic community.
“In faith, the food that brings us together is the body and blood of Christ,” Fr. Sia observed.
Boucher, in his presentation on youth/young adult ministry, noted that his vision is rooted in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 1997 document “Renewing the Vision: A Framework for Catholic Youth Ministry.”
“You can’t do good youth ministry when you have a lousy parish life,” he said, and then identified factors for effective youth ministry:
• Supported and understood by the parish community.
• Responds to the real lives, real needs and interests of young people. “Youth ministry is not a club or an organization … it is not a collection of programs to keep kids busy.”
• Marked by generous hospitality and intentional relationship building. “It’s not very much different than Jesus’ ministry; Jesus knew people.”
• Offers various ways for youths and their families to be involved. “Youth ministry has to respond in some way in connection with families.”
• Youth are active in making youth ministry happen. “Ministry is to youth, with youth, by youth and for youth … adults need to be in partnership with young people.”
The traditional youth group model assumes that young people like to join groups, but that is not necessarily the case, Boucher pointed out. He advised that a more comprehensive approach needs to be taken. “Kids who will never step through our doors — they ARE a part of our ministry.”
Many young people benefit from variety, both in terms of activities and adults to relate to, he said. “So how do we bring ministry to them?” Boucher asked. His answer includes the following: catechesis, evangelization, pastoral care, prayer and worship, leadership development, justice and service, community life and advocacy.
Adults, by their actions and interactions, need to give youths and young adults “a glimpse of what it means to be disciples in the world,” Boucher said.
“What’s your plan to drive this vision?” asked DPC chairman Matt Pacha of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City.
“Our ‘clients’ are parish leadership groups and youth ministry leaders,” Boucher said. “They are ultimately responsible for making sure ministry happens for kids. Part of (the vision) is teaching, being available to pastors. We can provide training for youth ministry leaders, consultation services, and everything from assessments to long-range planning.”
Sheri Benson, DPC secretary from Sacred Heart Parish, Newton, said she wants everyone to hear Boucher’s message.
“I’ll go anywhere I’m asked,” said Boucher, whose position is funded by the Annual Diocesan Appeal. “My goal is to meet with every parish in the diocese and to meet with the pastor, faith formation and youth leaders in each of them. I hope to get that done by this time next year.”
Bishop Amos asked Boucher to report back on his visits when they are completed.

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