By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
OTTUMWA — Nearly 500 Spanish-speaking persons nourished their faith and fellowship during a Catholic conference June 11 that featured the first cardinal from El Salvador and two widely known Catholic preachers in the Spanish-speaking world.
Participants listened to testimonies and music that inspired hope. They prayed, sang, celebrated Mass, ate meals together and walked in a Eucharistic procession during the Fourth Catholic Theological-Pastoral Conference of the Diocese of Davenport’s Multicultural Ministry. They came by car, bus and carpooling from across the diocese and several states to the Bridge View Center for the conference whose theme was “We are called to hope.”
“When we come here, we are opening our hearts so that others can come into our hearts,” said Nelly De La Torre of St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa, a participant and volunteer at the daylong conference. The speakers were Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez of El Salvador, Father Pedro Nunez, a well-known Catholic preacher from the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and Salvador Gomez, described as an outstanding Catholic lay preacher who was born in El Salvador.
First-time participants Manny and Anna Samayoa of St. Mary-Ottumwa appreciated the conference for the inspiring messages. “It’s a chance to renew our faith and it’s beautiful to see the Latino community come together for this event,” Manny said. The couple’s older daughter, Tania, 15, was a volunteer. Their younger daughter, Selena, 4, was with them for part of the day. Volunteers provided fun activities for younger children in a separate room. Anna believes in making time for faith-related events. “If God gives us life each and every day, we can give him a little bit of time to grow our faith. He’s there for us every second of the day,” she said.
Sister Irene Munoz, CHM, said she couldn’t believe she had been in the company of a cardinal who personally knew a saint, St. Oscar Romero, who was martyred while celebrating Mass in El Salvador in 1980. Cardinal Rosa Chavez, now 79, was 14 years old when he first met Archbishop Romero and at age 20 served as then Father Romero’s assistant at the seminary. Their close relationship continued as both served in the Archdiocese of San Salvador.
Cardinal Rosa Chavez talked about his relationship with Archbishop Romero during talks he gave to priests of the Davenport Diocese, the sisters of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary (CHM) and conference participants. The cardinal delivered a strong message to conference participants that energized Sister Munoz, multicultural minister for the Ottumwa area, and others. He reminded participants that they belong to the one body of Christ and have many gifts to share. “He said we’re all disciples of Christ and need to speak the truth and not to be afraid because the Lord is with us,” Sister Munoz said. “He said it is important to always be helping other people and not to forget the poor, the isolated. Be a light for others.”
Arcelia Gonzales of St. Mary of the Visitation-Ottumwa felt honored to receive Communion from Cardinal Rosa Chavez. She carries his message in her heart: “We all belong to the same Church. We are brothers and sisters.”
As participants ate lunch, Cardinal Rosa Chavez stopped by tables to greet them, offer his blessing and pose for photos at their request. Among those the cardinal visited were Vincente and Genoveva Diaz of St. James Parish in Washington and their 4-year-old son Toby. They participated in the conference (Toby on his dad’s shoulder) because “we wanted to learn more,” Vincente said. They also accompanied friends whom they are encouraging to return to the Catholic Church, Ismaela Contreras and Daniel Rodriguez Paz. “I get so happy and excited when people come back to the Church and want to learn more about God. Imagine how God feels,” Genoveva said.
Anthony Chavez, a 21-year-old senior at William Penn University and member of St. Mary Parish, both in Oskaloosa, led the digital media efforts for the conference as a volunteer. Three other volunteers assisted him. He hopes to convert his passion for digital media into a ministry at the diocesan level. He also has a passion for his faith. “I’ve been involved in the Church quite a while, thanks to my parents,” he said.
Miguel Moreno, diocesan director of Multicultural Ministry, was asked why he invited Cardinal Rosa Chavez to participate in a Catholic conference in Iowa. Moreno said he was inspired when the cardinal presided at the beatification Mass Jan. 22 in El Salvador for the country’s four new blesseds, Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande; his sacristan, Manuel Solórzano; lay companion Nelson Rutilio Lemus; and Franciscan Father Cosme Spessotto. All were martyred.
“One time, the Church was persecuted in El Salvador, now the Church is persecuted by a pandemic,” Moreno said, referring to Catholics’ slow return to the Church and faith-building activities. “People need to have faith in a time of crisis,” Moreno said of the cardinal’s message to the conference participants. “Our Church endures.”