by Father Pat Murphy
In my 30 years of priesthood as a Scalabrinian missionary, the phrase “starting from zero” seems to accurately characterize my ministry.
What does the phrase mean? It is my way of remembering that during the course of these 30 years, I have had the unique privilege of starting from zero Hispanic ministry in eight different parishes.
In looking back at these pastoral experiences, I would say each parish had its own set of unique challenges. But the end result was always worth the effort because, when you start from zero, you have the opportunity to build something special.
I remember clearly that it was the feast of Christ the King in 1990 when we celebrated the first Spanish Mass at St. Charles Parish in Melrose Park, Ill. We did not know what to expect because, to be perfectly honest, the former pastor was not very helpful and the receiving community was not very hospitable, as clearly stated in the letters they sent me before I even arrived at the parish.
However, we knew this was our mission because the local area was 80 percent Hispanic, and the need to offer pastoral care was more than obvious.
We arrived at the parish in early November 1990 and started to gather together some leaders. Three weeks later, we scheduled the first Mass in Spanish. I expected to have about 50- 60 people at that Mass. However, God had a different plan because people just kept coming and coming. In the end, we had over 600 people at the first Mass.
In 1992, we started the second Mass in Spanish. Today the parish of St. Charles continues to grow as a place that truly welcomes immigrants and currently has five weekend Masses in Spanish.
On Oct. 30, at the stone chapel of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa I was blessed to be part of another experience of starting from zero as we celebrated the first Spanish Mass. Our numbers are a bit smaller than my experience of 20 years ago, as we have about 110 people who have decided to worship with us. However, this time the support and encouragement of the pastor (Father Tom Dolezal), the staff and parishioners has been excellent as they opened wide the doors of their parish. They didn’t have to welcome us, but they chose to do so because it was the right thing to do. Thank you!
I now pray that Holy Trinity may inspire other parishes in the spirit of the 10th anniversary of the jubilee year to open wide the doors of their churches and welcome their Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters.