Building community one tamale at a time

Laura Villanueva, a member of All Saints Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, explains the art of making tamales to parishioners of Church of the Ascension in Overland Park. Behind Villanueva are, from left, Edie Graham, Kathleen Streb and Janet Rethman-Huber. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JOE MCSORLEY

by Olivia Martin
olivia.martin@theleaven.org

OVERLAND PARK — When organizers from All Saints Church in Kansas City, Kansas, were preparing a sister-parish tamale- making class and dinner at Church of the Ascension here, they were hoping for 30 people.

When more than 90 signed up for the cooking class alone, they knew they had a hit on their hands.

The event — which yielded some 4,700 tamales and a lot of very full parishioners — was held at Ascension on April 21 and was just one in a long series of events building the relationship between the two parishes.

The day — full of hard work, pleasant surprises and new friendships — was judged a great success.

“[Making tamales] is a little more complex than I thought it would be,” admitted Ascension parishioner Lee Ann Cure.

“It made me appreciate it more,” she added, “and more willing to try new things like that at home.”

It wasn’t All Saints parishioner Teresa Wortman’s first time making tamales, but she was grateful for the refresher the class offered.

“There are a lot of steps in making tamales,” she said. “I had to relearn how to put the masa in the corn husks and wrap them and everything.

“I was trying to get the trade secrets this time!”

Archdiocesan initiative

Steve Ehart, an Ascension parishioner and consultant for the office of mission strategy for the archdiocese, helped coordinate the event as part of a growing archdiocesan sister-parish initiative.

“We’ve had contact with [All Saints] throughout the years,” said Ehart.

The idea for the tamale-making class was an opportunity for both parishes to deepen their friendship through shared faith, service and fellowship.

“If we want unity in our country or our neighborhood,” agreed Wortman, “we have to start with the Catholic people.

“We need to really live it instead of giving lip service to it.”

And, indeed, these sister parishes have begun to fortify the gift of Catholic community together, starting at the place closest to the heart: the stomach.

“I love tamales,” said Cure. “I thought [the class] was a great chance to actually learn how to make them.”

“We thought [there would be] extra tamales,” said Ehart, “[but] nothing was unsold!”

Gabriela Torres, one of the coordinators of the event and an All Saints parishioner, said that planners didn’t know what to expect.

“I was thinking, ‘I don’t think we’re going to have a lot of people,’” she said. “Oh gosh, we had a lot of people!”

But it wasn’t all about the food.

Learning from each other

“My favorite part was the community,” said Cure.

“Working side by side with other women from another parish we normally wouldn’t have met — and who were willing to take time out of their day to teach — I thought that was pretty fantastic,” she added.

Torres was witness to the work and community that blossomed during the day as well.

“We were all there without differences or anything,” said Torres. “We were all having fun and learning from each other.”

“We are all God’s people,” she continued, “so in a way, everything we do is for his glory.

“As we work together and learn more about each other, that is positive for us as Catholics: to show that we can learn from each other.”

“And I got to meet other ladies — even from my own parish!” added Torres.

While the instructors of the tamale- making class were all from All Saints, [the Ascension parishioners] “really taught us a lot about planning events,” Torres said.

“It was good that we were learning from them also — I like that,” she continued. “It was good that we were all teaching each other something.”

Cure felt the beauty of community through the act of cooking together.

“I definitely feel like there was a connection made,” she said.

“Whenever you get people together to cook and make food there’s a bond over that,” she noted. “It’s our nature to want to cook and feed the people we love, so I think you always have that connection that spans across cultures.”

“It built community between the two parishes,” said Wortman. “We (All Saints) are in the urban core and struggle sometimes to just eat or keep a roof over our head.”

“Hopefully as we go on with the sister-parish program,” she added, “people will start to see that we are all made by the same Creator, so we shouldn’t be building walls. We should be building bridges.

“I felt that’s what we did.”

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