by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “The truth is out there” was the guiding principle of FBI agents Mulder and Scully throughout nine seasons of “The X-Files” in the late ’90s.
Local Catholics Rocio Valdiviezo and Maria Elena Aguilar would agree. And the two, who graduated from the Escuela de Teología Básica (School of Basic Theology) on July 11 at Blessed Sacrament Family Center in Kansas City, Kansas, are in hot pursuit of it.
Admittedly, they are searching for a different kind of truth — and they are seeking it not only for themselves, but others.
Valdiviezo, a member of Good Shepherd Parish in Shawnee, and Aguilar, a member of Our Lady of Unity Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, are part of the most recent group of students — 19 men and women — to receive diplomas from the program after a three-year course of study.
This is the largest graduating class since it was established in the archdiocese in 2003, said Father Gianantonio Baggio, CS, archdiocesan director of Hispanic ministry. He is also director and instructor of the Escuela de Teología Básica.
Although personal enrichment was one of the goals of the program, both Valdiviezo and Aguilar primarily decided to undertake the studies to be more effective in their ministries.
Valdiviezo and her husband David are active in marriage preparation for Spanish-speaking couples — first at St. Agnes Parish in Roeland Park and now at Good Shepherd.
“We found out when we taught people marriage preparation that they had many difficult questions,” said Valdiviezo, speaking through Father Gianantonio as interpreter. “We didn’t always know how to answer. We looked at the diploma as a way to deepen our knowledge of theology and the church so we could answer those questions.”
Aguilar, a catechist for grade school children in her parish, had been a catechist since she was 14 years old in her native Mexico. But she also realized that she needed to enrich her own faith life in order to enrich the faith life of the children she was teaching.
“I realized the necessity of being formed in the faith as an adult,” said Aguilar, also speaking through Father Gianantonio as interpreter. “My faith is like the history of my life.”
“I was always Catholic, and I could tell a lot of things about a life of faith,” she continued, “but my faith before this course was more like a ‘traditional’ faith.
“Before the course, I was a Catholic by tradition. But now, I am a Catholic by conviction,” said Aguilar. “Many of the doubts and questions I had about the faith were answered in this course.”
The Escuela de Teología Básica was designed for people like Valdiviezo, who works in a tax preparation office, and Aguilar, who works at a restaurant-bakery. It makes accessible advanced education in the faith for Spanish-speaking adults with families and full-time jobs and those involved in parish ministry.
Students met for class every Monday from 7 to 9:30 p.m. through the months of the traditional school year. Students took 15 courses in three years.
The courses are designed for adults with a high school-level education, said Father Gianantonio. Among the courses offered were: Prayer and Spirituality, Sacred Scripture, Lay Ministry in the Church, The Creed, Christology, Mary and the Saints, Sacramental Theology and History of the Church.
The Escuela de Teología Básica has no permanent faculty other than Father Gianantonio and Sister Maria Orozco, SCL, a consultant for catechesis and evangelization with the office of Hispanic ministry. Other ad hoc faculty are mainly Spanish- speaking priests.
Every effort has been made to make the classes affordable for the students, said Father Gianantonio. The cost of the school is divided evenly three ways between students, their parish and the office of Hispanic ministry. The total cost of the program is $300 a year.
The greatest burden on students is not the cost, but the time. Both Valdiviezo and Aguilar had to make sacrifices. So did their families, but they were understanding.
“[Their families] saw it as an example of faith for the children — that the formation doesn’t stop with confirmation, but is something that continues,” said Father Gianantonio.
The purpose of the school is not only personal enrichment or more effective ministers.
Its goal is also to raise up faith leaders in the Spanish-speaking community. Students must develop and implement a complete and practical plan of ministry for their own parish, with the approval of their pastor.
Valdiviezo’s project involved training a group of people in hospitality so they would know how to make newcomers feel welcome and how to respond to emergencies. Aguilar’s project was to form a women’s group called Apostles of Divine Mercy, who engage in spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
Growing interest in the Escuela de Teología Básica on the part of pastors and lay ministers has encouraged Father Gianantonio. He looks forward to recruiting students for another three-year cycle this coming September.