By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
OTTUMWA — Ignacio Garcia traveled nearly four hours from La Salle, Illinois, to attend a theological conference in Ottumwa for Spanish-speaking Catholics. “When it’s something about God, people don’t care how far it is — everything for God,” Garcia said of the Aug. 22 event that drew around 1,500 adults and children from five states. During the lunch hour, as he strolled outside the Bridge View Center, he shared what he had gotten out of the conference so far. “The speakers, they go straight to your heart.”
That’s the reaction organizers hoped to inspire at the daylong conference with the theme “Love God and Love the Church” and with presenters, teaching, reflection, praise and worship to inspire that love.
Hispanic Catholics, like other Catholics, have been leaving the church. The conference aimed to encourage them in their Catholicity, said Miguel Moreno, coordinator of Multicultural Ministry for the Diocese of Davenport. His office organized the conference in collaboration with the diocese’s Pastoral Agents in Hispanic Ministry, Hispanic Leadership Council and with Hispanic Ministry offices in the Region IX dioceses: Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska. Illinois, especially the Peoria Diocese, also collaborated.
Separate activities were offered for children, teens and adults to help them strengthen their faith in the God who never abandons and to encourage them to participate fully in the church. The day’s activities culminated with Mass, at which Bishop Richard Pates of the Des Moines Diocese presided, followed by dinner and a concert.
In a message directed to the youths after his homily, Bishop Pates said, “Your spirit and life contribute to the freshness of the Church and engender great hope. It is remarkable how God has chosen to reveal himself through creation, through his covenant with the Jewish people, through the incarnation of his Son Jesus, and now through the Catholic Church built on the 12 Apostles. You are members of this Church, the body of Christ alive in the world today. By your energy you enable the Church to take on an important role in advocating for the rights of all and enabling Jesus to become present through your faith and action. The Church welcomes you and needs you. I encourage you to continue to develop and nourish your love for God whose love for you knows no bounds. Also, take on your role in the Church. Your love for the church will be a signal to God of how much you love him.”
After Mass, the crowds swarmed Bishop Pates to request a blessing. “I bet you it took him 20 minutes to patiently bless and greet every family that wanted to meet him,” said Kent Ferris, the Davenport Diocese’s director of Social Action. “It speaks to the appreciation for the clergy and in particular for bishops. People don’t get to see bishops up close very often.”
Earlier in the day, teens flocked to Father Chase Hilgenbrinck, a professional soccer player who left that profession to respond to his vocation to the priesthood. “I love his story and how he devoted his life to God and how even though he was a soccer player, he gave his life to God,” said Gloria Aguilar, 14, of Des Moines.
Adults frequently mentioned being inspired by presenters Fernando Casanova, a well-known apologist who shared his conversion story, and Father Fabian Moncada, a native of Colombia and a priest of the Des Moines Diocese who spoke about living the faith.
“Dr. Casanova talked a lot about love — the difference between the love of husbands and wives and love in the family,” observed Father Jim Betzen, C.PP.S., pastor of St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa. “Fr. Moncada talked about living the Mass.”
“They were saying to really live God in our hearts … to know his presence, to really live it out,” said Adriana Castro. The secretary of St. Joseph Parish in Omaha, Nebraska, attended the conference because her mom, Teresa Rodriguez of Council Bluffs, Iowa, asked her to go. “It’s a calling to come to see what God wants for us,” Castro said, “more love toward others and toward our church. I think it’s great.”
“We knew it was going to be really good and it would help us know more about our faith,” said Victoria Calderon, secretary for Our Lady of the Americas Parish in Des Moines. She attended the conference with her husband Tony and their daughter Sofia, 11. Victoria loved hearing Casanova’s conversion story and looked forward to seeing Martin Valverde perform in concert that evening. “I took my first retreat with him (in Guatemala) probably in 1985.” Tony appreciated the reaffirmation that the Catholic Church is where all the different churches have their roots. “This is the church of God,” he said.
Some Catholics came in large groups. Antonio Sanchez of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Omaha arrived on a bus with nearly 50 people. Eren Muniz of Christ the King Parish in Des Moines traveled with a group of about 35 people. She and Sanchez had just met at the conference. “Both of us want to evangelize our brothers and sisters in our parishes,” she said.
Jose Chavez, a member of St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa, kept busy as a conference volunteer. As he pulled can after can of pop from an ice-filled cooler during the lunch hour rush, he said: “I’m glad to do it. All who believe try to be everywhere to help.”
Moreno thanked everyone who participated in the theological conference. “I’m especially grateful to Bishop Martin Amos, who has been supportive of this conference since the planning process began a year ago.”