By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
WASHINGTON — Deacon candidates learned more about the needs and struggles of the growing Hispanic population in the Diocese of Davenport during a recent retreat at St. James Parish.
By immersing themselves in culture and stories, the deacon candidates were able to look past preconceived notions and gain a new understanding of Hispanic Catholics. “These are people of faith, good citizens, and their plight was something I became keenly aware of throughout the weekend,” said deacon candidate Joe Rohret.
Ten deacon candidates participated in the retreat June 27-28, hosted by St. James Parish. Several deacons’ wives also participated.
The weekend started with a “Quinceanera” — a celebration for a young woman upon her 15th birthday — that featured Mass and dinner afterward. Washington-area Hispanics explained the cultural importance of the milestone and the kind of preparation it requires.
Deacon candidates said they enjoyed partaking in this little slice of Hispanic Catholic life. “I was impressed by the fusion of Catholic faith and Hispanic culture in the Quinceanera tradition,” said deacon candidate Steve Barton. “The key point is the young adult’s personal profession of gratitude to God for life, for Jesus Christ as Savior, for the power of the Holy Spirit, dedication to the Blessed Mother, and commitment of their life in service to others. That’s truly special for anyone, especially a young teenager.”
On Sunday, the deacon candidates learned about general ministry issues and immigration. Hispanics from St. Mary Parish in Ottumwa gave additional testimony. Father Bernie Weir, pastor of St. James Parish, said this portion of the retreat was “eye opening for the deacon candidates who maybe have never met our immigrant population before and may not know why people come here and what the immigration process is like.”
Rohret said the presentations caused him to reflect on immigration law, past and present. “The stories they told of the struggles of those trying to become citizens in this country, and the years it takes to become documented (showed me that) the system obviously needs to be fixed immediately. …These are people who want nothing more than to work hard and provide for their families. … We are a country built on immigration, and it’s what makes us strong!”
Deacon candidate John Jacobsen attended with his wife, Tracey, a commissioned lay ecclesial minister. Tracey said they learned much about the struggles and needs of immigrants, both documented and undocumented. “The people live in our community, whether we are aware of it or not, and to be able to hear the problems, issues and possible solutions from this small group who have lived this experience was eye opening and brought a sense of awareness to us.”
Tracey said she and John would apply what they learned to their ministries. “Knowing that each person will have a different situation and circumstance, it brought the awareness of undocumented individuals to light in a clearer way; that people need the assistance of others, and that while we likely can’t solve the situation (of a flawed immigration policy) we may be able to guide them to resources … we need to listen to those involved without judging them.”
The issue of immigration policy and reform can be polarizing, but deacon candidate Lowell Van Wyk said church members have a responsibility to treat Hispanic Catholics with “the dignity they deserve as children of God” regardless of political beliefs. He enjoyed practicing his “limited Spanish” at the retreat.
Fr. Weir was thrilled with the turnout and the effect it had on the deacon candidates. “It was a powerful weekend for everybody.”