Hispanic Ministry exists to preserve, enrich and strengthen the faith of Latino Catholics in the Diocese of Norwich, many of whom have been here for years, many others fairly recently arrived and not yet integrated into the mainstream of church and society. That makes it important for this ministry to be carried out in the language and culture of the people, while assisting them in effective integration into their parishes and society, in a way that respects the values and culture of all.
We seek to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ through a deepening of personal and liturgical prayer, active evangelization, the promotion of the family with special attention to youth, and attention to social justice issues as we strive to defend and advocate for the most vulnerable of the immigrants who come to our parishes.
COVID-19 has put a stop to our programs but not to our efforts to nourish the faith of our people through a strengthening of the domestic church and forming community. In spite of closed churches, social distancing and permitted gatherings of no more than five, this ministry, like the others of our diocese, continues to be an active and fruitful presence to our people, thanks to the advantages of social media. The sisters who, with their pastors, lead the ministry in the parishes, continue to effectively accompany the people in their faith journey with daily live transmissions through Zoom and YouTube of various devotions such as holy hours, the praying of the rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, Scripture reflections, and the Stations of the Cross.
Through this ministry, they have succeeded in creating and strengthening a sense of church and community, in spite of mandated social distancing. At St. Mary Star of the Sea parish in New London, for example, in one of the Friday Stations of the Cross, Sister Estela invited 14 families each to prepare one of the stations in their homes. The Stations of the Cross was prayed from each of these homes, with many other families in the community tuned in to Zoom, united in prayer at the same time, from their own homes. In these days of virtual gatherings, there are often as many as 23 families praying together with the sister.
While no time is a good time to be without your church community, Lent and Holy Week were particularly difficult, but the people tell us that praying the customary devotions with their pastoral leaders and other members of the community, greeting each other on the computer screen before the prayer, helped to strengthen their faith and increase their hope. It also gave them a deeper appreciation and love for their church family. They looked forward to these daily times of “being together” and praying together, even if only on a computer screen.
There have been instances where there have been deaths in the community, in some cases because of COVID-19. Through Zoom the sisters are able to gather with the family and pray with them, as they mourn the loss of their loved one.
Through WhatsApp we connect with groups in the parishes to check up on their spiritual, emotional and physical needs or the needs of others in the community. In one parish, community members have organized themselves to take food, medication, or even money to those in need, one week assisting as many as 15 families.
Among the most vulnerable in our communities are our undocumented brothers and sisters. For them there will be no government check; no unemployment check, either now or later; no health care assistance to test for the virus; and no treatment, should that be necessary. They are the first to lose their jobs, and, not being eligible for any kind of state or federal assistance, they are left with no resources.
In one community we are working with local interfaith groups in their efforts to raise funds for what is called the Neighbor Safety Net Fund, which is administered by one of the local agencies. This fund helps those who have been laid off or have had their hours reduced as a result of the virus. They are financially vulnerable because they are not able to receive assistance from other sources. They are waiters, waitresses, dishwashers, housekeepers, farm workers and others. The fund covers basic needs, car payments, medicine, and any other financial emergency resulting from COVID-19. These financial emergencies are many and constant. In these times it is not uncommon to hear of families threatened with eviction. We are attentive to these families and assist them in avoiding eviction.
It is often said that God writes straight with crooked lines. Perhaps one of the messages He is writing is a reminder to all of us to renew our efforts to building up the family as the Domestic Church and for each of us to be more intentional in our baptismal privilege of being missionary disciples in our concern for the most vulnerable among us and those on the margins.
-- By Sister Mary Jude