Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

June 11, 1998


Vammos a la Playa


This summer vacation I will be studying Spanish.  Not just toting a book along to the beach to learn a few phrases.  I will be enrolled in a language school in Central America and living with a family to immerse myself in the culture.  Why?

Because, if you are going to minister to the Catholic Church in most parts of the United States today, you need to know Spanish.  Even where I live in Southern Maryland.

            Once we seemed  beyond the reach of  the waves of immigration here.   The population diversity had changed very little since colonial times.  Everybody here spoke English, albeit with the local  Maryland drawl.

            But even here, some 50 to 70 miles outside of Washington, DC, there is a new Hispanic presence.  Immigrants from Mexico and Central America come to do the jobs the locals no longer want.  They pick the meat out of the crabs caught on the Chesapeake Bay.  They pluck and process the chickens raised in the huge farms on the Eastern Shore, just across the Bay.  On  the big construction sites the language of labor is becoming  Spanish. 

            For your  typical American old guy like me,  it is a new challenge.

            How to reach out to new people who need the ministry of the Church, while still ministering to the predominant culture?

            For the past couple of years our little parish has taken little steps.  We don't want two parishes.  We want one that welcomes everybody.

            First we got a bilingual missalette.  Then I tried saying a few prayers, in Spanish, which drew smiles and giggles.  Then, at one mass,  we began reading the scripture in both languages.  The migrant workers to appointed lectors from their ranks.  We also bought catechisms and Bibles in Spanish.  We subscribed to our Archdiocesan Spanish language newspaper.  We sent our school bus to pick of the migrant workers, who have no cars, for Mass.  Next year we will have a Spanish language Renew groups.

            We also tried to be of practical help.  In April helped with tax forms.  We help with clothing from Catholic Charities.  We organized the occasional field trip and get rides to the doctor.   Some members of the parish have even begun teaching English.

            Are we doing too much?  Should we insist that they adapt to us?  That is what one man told me.  "They are here in the U.S., they should learn English."

He has a point.  One of the great strengths of America is its linguistic unity.

But I think we are only doing what the American church has always done.   Ministering to people who feel strange and who see the Catholic Church as the only important thing in their lives that they did not leave behind.   When I was a kid in Chicago, we still had the ethnic parishes; Polish, Slovak , Italian, German, Ukrainian and  French.  Nobody thought it strange or wrong.  It was adaptation to need.

Of course, language is only the beginning.  The "Hispanic" person, as journalist Richard Rodriguez has pointed out, is a creation of the U.S. Census Bureau.   Spanish speaking immigrants come from many countries and classes, races and cultures.  They cannot be treated as a single block.  There is a big difference between Cuban aristocrats and El Salvadoran farm laborers.  

But language is their common denominator and unifying force.

I think that some familiarity with the Spanish language and the various cultures of Latin America should be a requirement for priestly ordination in  most U.S. dioceses today.  

They are the children of Holy Mother the Church.  She cannot ignore them.  Even if it means retreading old guys like me at language school  during  summer vacation.