4,800 miles.

That’s how far our Guatemalan parishioners traveled from their villages to get to Cincinnati.

Each of those miles meant stepping further away from their families and homeland, and closer to an uncertain future in a strange country.

And yet they kept walking. Desperation and love drive humans to do courageous things.

By the grace of God, they arrived to Price Hill, a neighborhood just west of downtown Cincinnati, and eventually joined Holy Family Parish.

Holy Family, where I’m the bilingual pastoral minister, has been a stronghold in the neighborhood for more than a century. Early in its history, Holy Family served German and Irish immigrants, and now, a vibrant Guatemalan community makes up a large part of the congregation.

The first of these immigrants from San Marcos, Guatemala, arrived around the turn of the millennium. Many of them are Catholics who had been very involved in faith communities back home. Here, they began meeting for prayer and worship in their tiny apartments, but something was missing. They missed the sacraments, and besides, they were growing! They began to seek a parish home in Cincinnati.

Shamefully, several parishes turned them away. One told them, “We have too many activities already.” As if they were some sort of program, not human beings.

The leaders of the Guatemalan community approached Holy Family Parish next. Again, they found closed doors. The school principal at the time, a Sister of Charity, said if the pastor wouldn’t welcome them in the parish, she would offer them her school auditorium. They accepted, thankful at least to have adequate space to hold their burgeoning community. For several years, they met there on Saturday evenings, hiring their own Spanish-speaking priest for Mass when they could and simply praying together when they couldn’t.

When the current pastor arrived, he was appalled. He immediately reached out to the Guatemalan community and invited them to become part of the parish. He hired a bilingual staff person and added a bilingual Mass. The community began the slow process of integration. Sadly, many longtime parishioners left when the Guatemalans came.

But many also stayed, willing to help create the new. And despite the initial rejection they faced, the Guatemalans embraced the church as their home.

It’s been messy, to say the least. Even where there is willingness, there are barriers. Language is the most basic and palpable. Deeper, however, are differences in values, customs, social norms, belief systems, and even approaches to liturgy.

I came on board three years ago, and Holy Family was in the thick of working out the challenges and graces of intercultural community. My task was to help us work toward living up to our name. I took my cue from Pope Francis: If we wanted to become a true parish family, we needed to build a culture of encounter.

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  1. How are we connecting with others in our own faith communities?
  2. Do we take the time to offer kind gestures, smiles and prayers to those around us, especially those with whom we are unfamiliar?

Source: Global Sisters Report


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