A view from the outside looking in

Benito and Nila Herrera, members of St. Joseph Parish in Columbus Junction, listen to presentations in Spanish at the theological-pastoral conference June 11 at Bridge View Center in Ottumwa.

By Barb Arland-Fye

Spanish lessons learned in high school, college and in the workplace vanished from memory when I asked a couple if I could sit at their table during a Multicultural Ministry conference for Spanish-speaking Catholics in Ottum­wa. Their faces registered puzzled looks as I sat down, but they did not object.

Written Spanish is easier for me to understand and I did comprehend some of the content in the program guide for the Catholic Theological-Pastoral Conference, printed in Spanish. The conference theme was “We are called to hope,” but at the beginning of the daylong event June 11, I was not feeling hopeful about providing good coverage for The Catholic Messenger.


Lindsay Steele, our diocesan reporter and social media wiz, moved happily throughout the Bridge View Center, taking photos with her smartphone and digital camera. Her assignment seemed more doable but I reminded myself that we chose to tag team to tell the story of an important diocesan gathering that attracted nearly 500 adults, many of them with children.


We attempted to find a translator before the conference. One of our potential translators assured me that bilingual Catholics would be present and willing to assist. The morning of the conference, I scanned the auditorium searching for familiar faces, people who would not mind assisting me. I left the front-row table to begin asking for help. Everyone I approached treated me with kindness but perhaps did not feel up to the responsibility or wanted to concentrate on the speakers’ messages without the burden of translating.

A Knight of Columbus introduced me to a 15-year-old teen who accompanied his mother to the conference. The teen spoke English fluently and began to translate the message of Father Pedro Nunez, a well-known preacher and author from New Orleans. However, the priest was halfway through his story when the teen began translating it. I felt like I was trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces. I thanked my young translator and moved on to find someone who could provide a summary of the messages of both Father Nunez and Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez of El Salvador, the first speaker of the day.

As a journalist, I have discovered that participants at conferences take away different ideas and inspiration from talks and presentations. Each bilingual participant I spoke with helped me to gain insights about the speakers’ messages but also conveyed the importance of the Catholic faith in their own lives. They lifted my spirits and reinforced my hope for the future of our Catholic Church.

The clarity of Father Nunez’s message emerged. All of us at times get discouraged and may feel like giving up. God has a marvelous way of picking us up at those tough moments, as long as we are receptive and give God a chance. I could not understand any of the messages without assistance because of my limited Spanish language skills. However, like the devout Jews on Pentecost who were astounded that they could hear the apostles speaking to them in their native tongue, I too could hear. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit led me to people on fire with the faith and eager to share it. They evangelized me.

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at arland-fye@davenportdiocese.org)

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