By Father Guillermo Trevino
A few days before Mother’s Day, I received a text from Father Antonio Dittmer, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Moline, Illinois, the parish where I grew up. I made my first Communion, received the sacrament of confirmation and even celebrated my first Mass as a priest at the church. The text message asked if I could celebrate Mass on Sunday, May 8, at 6:30 p.m. so the pastor could see his mother and I could celebrate Mass with my mother and family present.
I said, “Yes!” because my mother could get the best gift that I could give her, a Mass in her home parish with her son the priest present. It was an interesting day for sure. I had posted an invitation on my Facebook page inviting Quad-City friends to attend the Mass if they wanted to see my mother and me. A few even showed up. Carlos and Mary Calderon, a recently married couple from Bettendorf who were parishioners of mine at the former St. Mary Parish in Davenport, were present. They had gotten married at St. Joseph Church in West Liberty, where I am pastor now, just so I could do the wedding.
My old boss from my newspaper days at Hola America, Tar Macias, also was present. The mother and sister of a friend of mine growing up, Nick Miller, who was a classmate in religious education, also showed up. Former youth minister of parishes where I served, Mary Ellen Pfeiffer, and her family attended.
With the arrival of these unexpected visitors at St. Mary in Moline, the parish sacristan shared a concern. “Father, I am sorry but with the Roe v. Wade news, we were told to keep an eye on any suspicious activity and there’s a bunch of people who may be here to protest!” I smiled and said, “Let me take a look at these protestors.” After I saw the “protestors,” I told the sacristan that these people are crazy to be here but they are here for me. The sacristan apologized but said he had to follow directions.
This brings me to my point: parishes get visitors all the time. Even protestors need to see the love of Christ in us. While we may disagree with protestors, nothing helps more than seeing someone who cares about you. I shared this story at the parishes where I am pastor (St. Joseph parishes in Columbus Junction and West Liberty) the weekend of May 14-15.
After the 5:30 p.m. Mass at St. Joseph-West Liberty, a woman told me she felt welcomed by the message I shared. She said she was driving to Massachusetts and was going to spend the night in West Liberty. On the other hand, nothing hurts more than for a group of people coming to worship to be seen as a threat. I remember celebrating my first Mass as a priest with many of my friends, some not Catholic, some not Spanish-speaking, in attendance. People were worried, and asked, “Will it be bilingual?” I was also asked, “Will the Mass be in Spanish?” I responded, “I sure hope so, this is the Mass that I grew up with and I am the priest celebrating it!”
Nothing is more damaging than our fears. Let’s try to welcome the strangers among us, whoever they may be.
(Father Guillermo Treviño is pastor of St. Joseph parishes in Columbus Junction and West Liberty.)