by Ellie Melero
Special to The Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Father Gianantonio “Giani” Baggio, CS, left the archdiocese at the end of July, but the impact he made during his almost seven years as the director of the office of Hispanic ministry will be felt for years to come.
Father Giani officially left the office July 31 after being reassigned by his religious order to priestly ministry outside the archdiocese. He had worked as the director of Hispanic ministry since September 2014. Under his leadership, the Hispanic community in the archdiocese has been able to grow and thrive.
“I think he’s had a lot of impact in the Hispanic ministries,” said Brenda Aguilar, a leader within the Hispanic ministry at St. Paul Parish in Olathe.
“The Hispanic community has grown throughout the years and his being fluent in Spanish, I think, makes it nicer and easier for the community to grow and to have that trust in him,” she added. “And he’s just always present in the Hispanic community.”
Being present for the Hispanic community in the archdiocese was always important to Father Giani, because he believes giving people a space to practice their culture — particularly their religious culture — is a crucial part of bringing people closer to God. That’s why he dedicated so much of his efforts to making Hispanic ministry more accessible.
When Father Giani arrived, few parishes had official Hispanic ministries and many did not have Spanish-speaking priests, even though — according to some estimates — 30% of the archdiocese is Hispanic, the second largest ethnic group in the archdiocese.
Today, 13 parishes have thriving Hispanic ministries, bilingual priests who can say Mass in Spanish and even parish office employees who speak Spanish. Father Giani said he would like to see the number of parishes with Hispanic ministry continue to grow.
One of Father Giani’s foremost goals was the hiring of more bilingual people in the chancery, where archdiocesan offices are housed, to give more members of the Hispanic community representation at the archdiocesan level. Earlier this summer, that goal was met when Archbishop Joseph Naumann announced the creation of a vicar for Hispanic ministry.
“That is one of the things that the office of Hispanic ministry was really pushing for and now it’s happening,” Father Giani said.
Also among Father Giani’s accomplishments was leading the archdiocese through the V (Fifth) Encuentro, a nationwide effort of the American bishops to learn more about the Catholic Hispanic community in the United States.
For four years, Father Giani led representatives from parish Hispanic ministries through workshops, conferences and door-to-door canvasing as they worked to discover more about the archdiocese’s Hispanic community and how it can be better served.
Thanks to the work of those who helped with the V Encuentro, parishes were able to find ways to better meet the needs of their Hispanic members, such as adding weekly Spanish Masses.
Another tool that has helped Hispanic ministry grow is the Curso de Teología Básica (Basic Theology Course), a three-year program that trains leaders for Hispanic ministry within their parishes. The Curso started before Father Giani arrived in the archdiocese, but he has helped the course thrive and it, in turn, has reinvigorated Hispanic ministry at the parochial level.
Ronald Ortega, a member of St. Paul Parish in Olathe who also assists with Hispanic ministry in Gardner, met Father Giani through the Curso de Teología Básica and said he learned a lot from the course. Ortega believes Father Giani has been a great leader for the Hispanic community because he was always there for them.
“Father Giani has had a big impact because he’s always thinking about us,” Ortega said. “He’s been a good leader, and I feel blessed to have known him.”
Being there for the Hispanic community was one of his favorite parts about being the director of Hispanic ministry, Father Giani said. He loved being with the people, especially for celebrations like the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The community loved him, too. Aguilar said she loved going to Mass with Father Giani because he had such powerful homilies that spoke to her.
As he moves on to his next assignment, Father Giani said Hispanic ministry is in good hands with Father Michael Hermes as the new vicar for Hispanic ministry. Father Giani is grateful for the time he has had in the archdiocese and grateful God was able to work through him to help the Hispanic community here.
He will not forget his time in Kansas City, and the Hispanic community certainly won’t forget him anytime soon.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Father Giani said. “I learned a lot of things, a lot of important things, and I will treasure the experience for the future.”