Made to feel at home

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

Our Lady of Guadalupe found a new home at Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa — and she moved in Oct. 30.

On that day, a statue of the famous patroness of Mexico was carried up the aisle of the little stone chapel that served as Holy Trinity’s first church.

There, she was carefully placed in the sanctuary during the parish’s first Spanish Mass, where she was welcomed by a Hispanic community that nearly overflowed its space.

“We estimated we would get about 100 people, and we ended up with more than 200,” said Anabella Wasserman, a Holy Trinity parishioner who helped organize this first Mass.

“That’s a rough number,” she added. “All the pews were full. It was really fun to see — lots of young families and all kinds of people.”

During the praying of the Our Father, when hands joined across the aisles, the feeling of community was palpable. Like Our Lady of Guadalupe, many of the participants at this Mass were finding a new home.

Identifying the needs

Father Pat Murphy, CS, animator for Hispanic ministry for the archdiocese, was pleased with the turnout. It isn’t uncommon, he said, for Catholics to fall away from the church when they immigrate to the United States.

“I’m sure some [Hispanic] people in the area didn’t even realize that Holy Trinity was a Catholic church because maybe the Catholic church back home looks a little different,” he said.

Father Pat estimated that possibly half of the Spanish-speaking Catholics in the archdiocese are not attending Mass.

“Because they just don’t know where the Catholic church is, and where there is somebody who speaks Spanish,” he explained.

Holy Trinity identified the need for a Spanish Mass in its area through a parish initiative called AXIOM, which gathered information from surveys and community forum meetings to help determine how the parish could best serve God and his people.

When AXIOM results indicated that many Spanish-speaking Catholics within the boundaries of Holy Trinity Parish were not having their pastoral needs met, a committee was formed to address the issue.

Members turned first to Father Pat for help — to his surprise and delight.

“Holy Trinity worked a little differently,” he said.

“Usually, it’s the opposite. Usually, I’m knocking at the door saying, ‘Hey do you know how many Hispanics live in your neighborhood?’” added Father Pat.

But he wasn’t complaining, and soon, with Father Pat’s help, the group decided the best way to begin its outreach was to offer a Spanish Mass.

Holy Cross and St. Agnes churches in the Johnson County area already offered Spanish Masses on Sunday. Holy Trinity quickly recognized that a Mass on Saturday evening would fill a great need.

Jorge Rivera lives in a Hispanic community associated with Holy Cross.

Like many Hispanics, though, he is unable to attend its Spanish Mass, which is in the afternoon.

“Because most of the people work on Sunday afternoon in restaurants and stuff like that,” he explained. “In my case, I cannot be there on Sunday for many reasons. So I’m going in English, and I don’t have a choice on that.”

Many families, said Wasserman, find themselves in the same situation.

“A lot of people have expressed that,” she said. “Most of the families are working Saturday and Sunday.

“So this [Saturday evening Mass] will serve the community well.”

Planning an additional Mass, however, was only half the battle. The real challenge was getting the word out to the local Hispanic community.

Again, they turned to Father Pat for help.

Spreading the word

Several Catholic Spanish-speaking communities in the regions of Johnson County, Wyandotte County and Topeka have been up and running for some time now.

“And so every year, each region does its own mission, going door-to-door to remind people that the Catholic Church is around,” explained Father Pat.

St. Agnes parishioner Albert Perez has been doing missions as part of a community in Johnson County for five years. He compares it to Christ sending his apostles to reach out to people.

“They’re immigrants; they don’t know where to go,” he said. “So, as a result, we have to reach out to them. We go out and knock on the doors and say, ‘Hey, we have Mass here.’”

This fall, the Johnson County communities of St. Agnes and Holy Cross churches did their mission in the Holy Trinity Parish area.

Rivera, who took charge of the evangelization effort, was impressed with the enthusiasm of Holy Trinity parishioners — especially those who were not Hispanic.

“It’s something strange to see an Anglo excited to have a Spanish Mass in their church,” he said. “It was a good, good thing. Honestly, I’ve been four years do- ing missions and I never saw that happiness from the Anglos!”

Morning and afternoon evangelization teams were formed and given maps of the area around Holy Trinity Church with a concentration of Spanish-speaking families.

Teams fanned out in those areas to knock on doors, wearing T-shirts imprinted with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. They went by twos, stopping to join hands and pray before they knocked at each door.

At first, it didn’t seem like many people were going to respond to the knocks. But once word got around about the message being delivered, people were eager for information.

“When we first went there, there was nobody,” said Perez. “Then they just start- ed coming out in the streets.

“The word got out — our T-shirts spoke for themselves. Pretty soon it was all over the streets — no matter what block we went to they were all out.”

“We told them to spread the word to their neighbors,” he said.

Clearly, the message was heard. The Mass attendance was beyond anyone’s expectations. Yet Father Pat assured those in attendance that Holy Trinity could handle an even larger crowd, if necessary, in its newer church building.

The future is bright

Elizabeth Saurez who, along with her husband William, played a vital role in organizing the Spanish Mass, passed out forms requesting volunteers to fill the roles of acolytes, lectors, ushers and eucharistic ministers at future Masses.

The response was overwhelming.

“Everybody was so generous,” said Wasserman. “So we will initiate training for that in November.”

“People were already asking when are confessions and can we start praying the rosary on the first Saturday each month before Mass,” she said.

After the Mass, a reception was held in the chapel basement with treats of hot chocolate and Mexican sweetbread.

“It was packed,” said Wasserman.

“People that Father Pat had never seen were there, and he was really excited.”

“What surprises me is that the community continues to grow,” said Father Pat. “And I think, when the census numbers come out, we’re going to be pretty surprised by how big our Hispanic community is here.”

Father Pat said he was grateful to the parish community of Holy Trinity for opening their doors to their Spanish- speaking neighbors

Wasserman agreed.

“We need to thank Father Tom [Dolezal, pastor of Holy Trinity] for allowing us to come to Holy Trinity. Without his approval, none of this would have happened.”

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