Johnson County offers ‘bienvenidos’ to new Hispanic ministry

Leaven photo by Joe McSorley Angela Navarro distributes Communion at the Spanish-language Mass at Good Shepherd Parish in Shawnee. Hispanics make up 7.4 percent of Johnson County and eight percent of Johnson County Catholic elementary schools.
Angela Navarro distributes Communion at the Spanish-language Mass at Good Shepherd Parish in Shawnee. Hispanics make up 7.4 percent of Johnson County and eight percent of Johnson County Catholic elementary schools. Leaven photo by Joe McSorley.

by Katie Hyde

SHAWNEE — Mass at Good Shepherd here at 12:15 p.m. on Sundays looks and sounds “un poco diferente” these days.

As 12:15 approaches, hundreds of families arrive, greet each other warmly in Spanish and take their seats. A lively band begins playing and a large choir sings a traditional Latin American hymn in Spanish.

A similar story is playing out across the area, as a new Hispanic ministry for Johnson County has recently taken root.

Though there has been Hispanic ministry in Johnson County for over 10 years now, the recent growth of the Hispanic population necessitated a new approach. Hispanics now make up 7.4 percent of Johnson County, totaling over 566,000 individuals. Hispanic children make up eight percent of Johnson County Catholic elementary schools.

And while many of these individuals speak English and have access to all of the English-language resources of Johnson County parishes, the archdiocese wanted to provide Spanish resources, services and Masses as well.

According to Anabella Wasserman, assistant to Hispanic ministry, a Spanish Mass often resonates more deeply with those Catholics whose first language is Spanish.

“From the Second Vatican Council, we hear the importance of parishes to worship in the ‘language of the people,’” said Wasserman. “The language in which you pray and worship speaks and connects better with the soul and leads to a better understanding of the faith.”

Father Mike Koller, of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa and regional leader for Johnson County, also noted the importance of providing a Spanish Mass.

“It’s the language Hispanics are accustomed to. They feel more at home, and it’s an opportunity for them to be able to worship in their own native tongue,” he said.

“They’re just drawn to it, as we would be drawn to English if we were located somewhere else,” he added.

In an effort to provide Spanish Masses as well as sacraments and other services to the growing Hispanic population, the archdiocese created three new parish centers across Johnson County with bilingual priests. Father Oswaldo Sandoval serves at Good Shepherd in Shawnee, Father Anthony Saiki serves at Holy Cross in Overland Park, and Father Michael Hermes serves at St. Paul in Olathe.

Not only do these priests communicate fluently in Spanish with the Hispanic congregation, they are also sensitive to the cultural nuances and struggles of the Hispanic community.

Father Sandoval, for example, spoke during one Sunday Mass about the importance of rest. This message resonated particularly among the recent immigrants in the Hispanic community, some of whom work more than one job in order to make ends meet.

Likewise, Father Koller noted that being able to “participate in these religious programs that they’re familiar with . . . is an outlet for the Hispanic community.”

Despite the linguistic and cultural barriers, Good Shepherd has opened its doors and warmly welcomed the Hispanic community.

“Just the fact that they opened the doors and accepted the ministry to be present speaks how generous and understanding they are,” said Wasserman. “It is a process, and there will always be people that will have a difficult time accepting another culture. But we all are called to be brothers and sisters in the one body of Christ.”

“Overall, the Johnson County community has been very responsive to the Hispanic ministry,” said Father Koller. “All the parishes have rallied around this plan and are supporting it. . . . We want it to succeed, and, so far, all the indicators are that it is.”

Additional reporting by Moira Cullings

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