By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
OTTUMWA — Bienvenidos Louisiana, Bienvenidos New York …
Signs in the halls of the Bridge View Center welcomed an estimated 1,700 guests from more than a dozen states to the Diocese of Davenport’s Spanish-language marriage and family conference Aug. 12.
The conference, organized by the Office of Multicultural Ministry, featured presentations by individuals who are well known in the Spanish-speaking community.
“It’s the best group of speakers,” said Deacon Gabriel Guerrero from LaSalle, Ill., one of 120 volunteers at the event. “People see them on Facebook and YouTube and hear them on Guadalupe Radio.”
Lizzette Castrellon, along with her husband and two children, traveled seven hours from Springdale, Ark., to attend the conference. “We’re big fans of some of the speakers and got excited about coming.” To have all the speakers in one place on the same day made the travel worth it, she said.
Father Angel Espinosa spoke first at the event. A Mexican author and speaker, he regularly travels the world giving lectures on marriage and family values. While Fr. Espinosa keeps a modest online profile, audience-recorded videos have been shared online with millions of viewers, and the announcement of his Ottumwa talk on The Catholic Messenger’s website went viral prior to the event.
He spoke about the family according to God’s plan. Adela Hernandez, coordinator of the marriage encounter program for the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minn., summed up the speech as she waited in line to take a picture with Fr. Espinosa after his presentation. “We need to love like God loves … forgiveness, love and humility are the language of love.”
Rosina Hendrickson, diocesan coordinator of Lifelong Faith and Lay Ministry Formation, said Fr. Espinosa’s presentation had universal relevance. “As a single person, I still got something out of it because it applies to my relationship with God and all those I meet.”
Next, Beto Garcia, a Mexican former professional soccer player, and his wife, Rosa, offered testimony of how God helped them piece back their family and faith during difficult circumstances. Recounting the talk, conference attendee Gloria Mancilla of Davenport said Beto lamented the way fame got to his head and skewed his priorities. It wasn’t until his wife had a near-death experience after the birth of their second child that things began to change. Each of them experienced a unique encounter with Mary, which transformed them and made them want to make praising God a priority. The Garcias advised the crowd to participate in the sacraments and pray and attend Mass as a family.
Pedro Niera from Iowa City led worship in the morning accompanied by St. Mary-Ottumwa’s Coro group. The music had people dancing in the aisles one minute and lifting hands reverently the next.
Just before volunteers served a lunch of carnitas, rice and beans, Chicago-based family psychologist Ferney Ramirez addressed the crowd. His energetic vocals and boisterous body language had the audience in constant fits of laughter. To begin his talk, Ramirez randomly selected a couple from the audience to come up to the stage — Arturo and Marisol Jimenez of Des Moines, who have been married seven years. He made them a part of his act first by giving them a gift bag containing a ceramic vase. He then took the vase from them as if to admire it, and then let out a yell and threw it to the ground, watching it break as the audience gasped. The act highlighted a major theme of his talk — that relationships can easily break, and it takes God and personal effort to put them back together. He then gave the couple tape, and they stayed on stage to put the vase back together as Ramirez playfully projected onto them a variety of common familial arguments.
Following the talk, the young couple spoke with The Catholic Messenger. A father of three, Arturo embraced Ramirez’ message about the importance of teaching children responsibility. Marisol echoed, “We have to work as a family to build a better future for our kids.” She also liked how Ramirez told people not to be afraid to start anew after a major conflict. “With respect and love, you can work together in a marriage to reconstruct what is damaged.”
After lunch, guests enjoyed a concert by the Texas band Vuelta en U (u-turn). Lupita Venegas, a psychologist who is regularly heard and seen on Mexican radio and television programs, gave the final presentation of the day. She spoke about healing marital wounds.
Fr. Espinosa celebrated Mass in the afternoon with priests from four dioceses concelebrating, including Father Dennis Martin and Father Joseph Sia from the Diocese of Davenport. Seminarians Osmin Melendez and Hugo Rodgriguez were altar servers.
The evening concluded with a concert by Priscila Angel.
Miguel Moreno, diocesan director of Multicultural Ministry, was pleased with the large turnout and expressed gratitude for the volunteers who made the event possible. The volunteers did a variety of tasks, including helping with the children’s area, selling merchandise, welcoming guests and making meals.
Carlos Valdez of Davenport came to the conference with his elderly mother and a group from St. Mary Parish in Davenport. He said the day offered a great opportunity for reflection, and he looks forward to sharing videos he took at the event. “Everything was good,” he said.