By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — Sixty-five Spanish-speaking Catholics gave time to God to prepare themselves for pastoral ministry in their parishes and to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others.
For two years, they devoted a full Saturday each month to participate in ministry formation classes at the Diocese of Davenport’s headquarters in Davenport. They came from 10 diocesan parishes and one in the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., and grew into a family of faith.
On May 25, they graduated from the “Programa de Formacion Ministerial San Francisco de Asis” with a jubilant celebration at St. Patrick Catholic Parish in Iowa City. Most of the graduates wore a black graduation cap and gown and their family members dressed in their Sunday best. Bishop Thomas Zinkula presided at the Mass and commissioned the graduates as lay ecclesial ministers.
Two additional classmates, Maria Guadalupe Castel and Judith Leon Velarde-Ruiz, died before completing the classes. They received their commissions posthumously. As each one’s name was announced, the graduates rose in their pews and said, “presente.”
“In the spirit of the Great Commission of Jesus Christ, we will send you back to your parishes to collaborate with your pastors in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, the joy of the Gospel. That is the mission of all baptized believers,” Bishop Zinkula said in his homily before the commissioning ceremony.
Miguel Moreno, Multicultural Ministry coordinator for the Diocese of Davenport, led the program with Ana Maria Shambaugh, Multicultural Ministry assistant. She wore a black gown and cap as one of the program’s 65 graduates.
“There are not many opportunities for the Hispanic communities to receive a systematic theological-pastoral formation,” Moreno said. “When they find one, which offers them the opportunity to deepen and strengthen their faith, they participate with the best enthusiasm unless they are unable to, due to work circumstances or weather.” The program addressed five areas of formation: human, spiritual, theological, pastoral and technological. “In our diocese, there are eight parishes with Spanish services. Our priests and sisters are unable to attend to all who search for assistance, but the Diocese of Davenport considers that it is important to educate lay leaders who can do a part of the pastoral work in their parishes,” Moreno said.
“My hope and prayers are that these 65 brothers and sisters can develop a pastoral ministry in their parishes. That they give the support that priests need. That they help in the parochial and diocese’s evangelization. That they are a testimony to God … and to the evangelization of joy.”
Shambaugh described the graduation as a huge step for graduates. “They finished a significant goal and set an example for the kids,” she said. “They strengthened their faith and grew more in love with God. They are so ready to evangelize. We are a big family called a diocese. We are sons and daughters of God with different languages and different faces. We love the one who loves us.”
Priests from some of the parishes with graduates concelebrated or attended the Mass: Fathers John Spiegel, Bernie Weir, Marty Goetz, Rudolph Juarez, Guillermo Trevino, Jim Betzen and Joseph Sia. The graduation and commissioning “meant what we should be about —enabling people to serve the church, express their faith and show their love of God through service to others,” Fr. Juarez said.
Graduate Pedro Gonzalez-Perez held his sleeping 1-year-old daughter Elianna as he received his commission from Bishop Zinkula. Afterwards, he said he felt “joyful, pleasure, excited, everything at once.” A member of St. Mary Parish in Davenport, he graduated with his wife, Leticia Tellez-Calderon. In addition to their daughter, they have a son, Josiel, 4. Pedro said he and Leticia chose to make the ministry formation program a priority. “We thought, ‘let’s keep learning more about our faith and our church.’ We will be able to share with others what we have learned.” Leticia participated in the classes to “strengthen our faith and to show our kids our faith.”
Graduate Zulma Lievanos-Borja of St. James Parish in Washington said her pastor, Fr. Weir, encouraged her to participate in the ministry formation program because of her active involvement in the parish. Beforehand, she thought the classes might drag on. But “after the first class I was always looking forward to it. I’ve learned so much and have grown so much as a person.” Now she is confident that God will guide her through any difficulty.
Another graduate active in his parish, Adrian Arellano Garcia of Ss. Mary & Mathias in Muscatine wanted to build on his ability to serve his parish. Twenty years ago, he studied for the priesthood before choosing the vocation of marriage, he said. As a graduate, he believes he can provide more support for the priests. And his wife, Araceli Arellano-Moya, graduated from the program to support her husband! Both are delegates to the Davenport Diocese’s Vision 20/20 Convocation, to be held June 6-8.
“I wanted to gain more knowledge, more understanding of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that God promises. But you’ve got to seek them out,” graduate Jose Gonzalez Jr., said. His ministry formation will help him in his youth ministry work at St. Joseph Parish in West Liberty. He didn’t mind the time commitment because making room for God is a priority. “If you make time for him, he makes time for you to be able to do other things.”
His wife, Rosemary Gonzalez, also graduated. “It strengthened my faith, for sure,” she said. Five years ago, Jose and Rosemary were on the verge of divorce before her mother encouraged them to participate in a Catholic marriage retreat, which revitalized their faith and their marriage, the couple said. They are parents of three children.
“Our church needs to be a moving church. We can’t stay behind the four walls. These classes made me become more aware of my faith,” Rosemary said. “I’m part of a much bigger family, the family of the saints and all the brothers and sisters in Christ.”