Multicultural parish festivals build community

Father Guillermo Trevino
Maria Duran cooks pupusas outside St. Joseph Catholic Church in West Liberty during the parish’s family festival earlier this month.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Each year, people come from miles away to purchase Maria Duran’s pupusas during the family festival at St. Joseph Parish in West Liberty. She fills the stuffed corn tortillas —a popular dish in her native El Salvador — with beans, cheese and pork before cooking them on a griddle outside the church.

It’s hard to find pupusas in eastern Iowa and Duran’s are famous among locals, said the parish’s pastor, Father Guillermo Trevino. During this year’s festival Sept. 3, the West Liberty School Board president drove to and from an event in Cedar Rapids “just to get pupusas!” Guests also enjoyed tacos prepared by members of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City who volunteered their time and food truck to help the West Liberty parish with the festival.

For multicultural parishes, food is a way to bring people together to celebrate faith and culture. “What I like most is people from the town coming to support the event, even if they aren’t Catholic,” Father Trevino said.


An hour east on Interstate 80, as summer turns to fall, the sounds and aroma of the St. Anthony Parish Kermes festival draws people to downtown Davenport. Earlier this month, Hispanic and non-Hispanic parishioners worked together to make the festival a success by cooking and serving authentic street food, selling tickets, donating refreshments and helping with setup and takedown.

Regardless of race, color or language barrier, “everyone is there not just working but enjoying” the experience, said organizer Alicia Nava Vieyra. Parishioner Carlos Valdez said some parishioners are unable to make regular financial offerings and enjoy the opportunity to support the parish with time and talent.

The event has support from the wider Davenport community as well, said John Cooper, pastoral associate and business manager. The Downtown Davenport Partnership gave St. Anthony a $1,000 grant this year. “Kermes is one of my favorite events in the City of Davenport,” said Officer Andrew Harris, who provides security for the festival. Though he is not Catholic, the parish treats him “like family” and he enjoys the food and fellowship.

The annual Taste of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport offers another opportunity for people to connect. Last year, the parish event brought a family together less than two weeks before they lost their matriarch. Marina Castel, a mother and grandmother, made enchiladas for the festival. “One of her greatest joys was to make food for people,” said her son, Mike Castel.  “She was beaming all day… all her kids were there, even the ones who didn’t go to (Sacred Heart),” recalled Susan Stanforth, the parish’s Faith Formation director. Marina Castel passed away nine days later at the age of 79. “It was such a beautiful event for their family,” Stanforth said.

The event features kids games and cultural foods including Vietnamese, Mexican, Italian and German. “Under the Church, we are all the children of God,” said Martin Ngo, a member of the parish’s Vietnamese community. This year’s event took place Sept. 24. Both Davenport parishes also include a booth with religious education class forms and parish information.

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