Changes in Hispanic ministry

Father Gianantonio Baggio succeeds Father Livio


by Jessica Langdon
jessica.langdon@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Barbecue, sports and other attractions draw plenty of people to Kansas.

But none of those features factored into the years-long dream that Father Gianantonio Baggio, CS, has known of ministering here.

“It has to do with the work,” said Father Gianantonio, the new archdiocesan animator for Hispanic ministry.

That work, specifically, is with immigrants — and it dovetails perfectly with the missionary focus on migrants of the Scalabrinian order.

Originally from Italy, Father Gianantonio studied in a seminary in Argentina.

He has served in parishes in several states, plus taken on assignments in Mexico and Canada.

His interest in Kansas City was sparked when he went to Rome in 2007 for additional training and preparation through the Scalabrini International Migration Institute.

“This is the best place to put into practice that kind of studies,” he said.

But a position didn’t open up until now.

So, after earning his master’s in Rome, Father Gianantonio went first to Mexico for three years.

He served as the director of Casa del Migrante in Nuevo Laredo. The shelter temporarily assists migrants with their needs in the city near the U.S. border.

“That was a very special experience,” he said. “That gave me a new perspective on the pastoral work for migrants.”

After also serving for a couple of years in Canada, he finally got the news he’d been hoping for.

He arrived in Kansas City, Kansas, in August and started settling into his new role as animator for Hispanic ministry, which is located at Blessed Sacrament Parish.

Strong foundation

Father Gianantonio spent late August and early September getting to know the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas under the guidance of Father Livio Stella, CS, who served as the animator for the office starting in March 2013.

After a sabbatical, Father Livio — who will be entering “semi-retirement” but will continue to serve — will be reassigned by his order.

“There’s plenty of work in God’s vineyard,” he said.

Father Livio came on board when Father Pat Murphy, CS, who had spent a decade heading up the archdiocesan Hispanic ministry office, left Kansas City to serve as director of Casa del Migrante — a shelter that temporarily serves migrants and assists with their needs — in Tijuana, Mexico.

“I am most grateful for the wonderful job Father Livio has done during his time here in Kansas City,” Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann told priests in his announcement of the transition.

He noted that Father Livio “provided calm, caring and dedicated leadership in Hispanic ministry.”

Father Livio considers one of his key contributions to the archdiocese to be the relationships he fostered with priests throughout the archdiocese and the people in the Hispanic community.

He regularly shared information that parishes could use in their bulletins to keep people informed about things that were happening through the Hispanic ministry office.

The office encourages members of the Hispanic community to engage in the life of their parishes and works with parishes to provide a number of services and programs.

Those include quinceañera retreats, marriage preparation, small faith communities, and sessions to assist the people who train others in their parishes for roles such as lectors, ministers of Communion, altar servers and ushers.

Looking forward

Father Livio believes some of the challenges his successor will take on include making an impact on not only first-generation immigrants, but also determining how to help a second generation and beyond of U.S.-born Catholics of Hispanic descent fit into their faith communities.

“I’ve always said [that] in civil society, integration is much easier than in the church,” said Father Livio.

Another goal that lies ahead is to work out a Spanish-speaking diaconate program or track in the current program.

Sister Maria Orozco, SCL, has worked with the office on a part-time basis for years, while serving in a catechetical role at Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and Our Lady of Unity in Kansas City, Kansas.

She is this year taking on more of a full-time role in the three-person office, which includes the animator, an administrative assistant, and Sister Maria, who, as pastoral assistant, works with a number of programs.

In her work, Sister Maria has seen a greater need for counseling in Spanish and hopes to work with Father Gianantonio to bring that, and other positive changes, about.

While his full name is difficult for Americans to pronounce, Father Gianantonio goes by his nickname — “Father Johnny” in English or “Father Yani” in Spanish.

And while his official role is with the Hispanic community, Father Gianantonio hopes to work with everyone to create an intercultural environment that is welcoming and accepting.

“Like we say in Spanish, the corazón (the heart) is the most important thing,” he said.

“We are here for the people,” said Sister Maria, picking up on Father Johnny’s thought. “We are here from the heart.”

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