by Matt McCabe
Special to The Leaven
WILLIAMSBURG — Prairie Star Ranch here has long been the background for a transcendent week away for youth and families in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
But it faced challenges in reaching everyone, until recently.
This summer, Deacon Dana Nearmyer and his wife Debbie, their staff and Hispanic ministry leaders within the archdiocese put on a first-ever Hispanic family camp.
For Debbie, it was about time.
“I’ve been overcome just by how humbling it is to get to walk by our brothers and sisters with whom we share the same faith, even though we don’t share the same language,” she said.
The language barrier initially provoked some anxiety. But they learned many of their teen staff members and families are bilingual.
“We’re supposed to be the church,” Deacon Nearmyer said. He felt strongly that offering a Hispanic family camp aligned with an overall goal from Pope Francis to step beyond someone’s own comfort zone.
“We’re supposed to be the people that can unify everything,” he added.
The Aguayo family knows both ends of the camp experience. They have attended regular family camp before and their teen daughter is on staff at the camp.
“I think it’s amazing that they’ve opened it up to Spanish-speaking families,” said Elizabeth Aguayo, who is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus, Shawnee.
Some of the families at the camp came from parishes with a high concentration of Hispanic and Spanish- speaking families; others didn’t.
But the week together acknowledged the communities they do share: Hispanic heritage and fervent Catholicism.
“For my community, it has been a new experience,” said Julieta Cordero of Good Shepherd Church in Shawnee. “But above all, I am very grateful to all the people who made this possible. Many of us are in our 40s, and we are experiencing it for the first time.”
The experience on the campgrounds looked every bit the same as it does for the traditional family camp.
“We are very grateful that Hispanic families have been taken into account, to be able to do something for us,” said Ignacio Galvez from Blessed Sacrament Parish in Kansas City, Kansas. “Because really what we are seeing right now is something very beautiful.”
The beauty of the week wasn’t lost on the Nearmyers. They felt a special vibrancy and passion for the Eucharist during their days with the Hispanic families.
It was so special, they said. It is a lesson for the rest of the church.
“They want to see integration,” Deacon Nearmyer said. “They want to see authentic community, they want to see authentic action.”
“I thank God because of this family camp for Spanish-speakers,” said Deida Galvez, also of Blessed Sacrament. “It is something very nice to be able to live together, to have new adventures, to do new extreme things that one has never done before.”