Advent project has Hispanics, non-Hispanics praying for each other

Categories: Around the Diocese

WEBadvent prayer

Heather and Brandon Novak are participating in the Advent Prayer Project with their children, Sebastian, 11, and Luciana, 6. (Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

The social justice committee of St. Michael Church in St. Cloud and St. Joseph Church in Waite Park has been thinking of ways to connect the Hispanic parish community with the non-Hispanic community.

In November, the group came up with an idea to match people from each of the communities to pray for each other. This Advent Prayer Project is intended to help people make “encounters,” which committee member Patty Keeling said Pope Francis has asked for during the Year of Mercy.

“This is a way for us to work together, to build bridges and to plant seeds for something much bigger,” said Keeling, who explained the project at all the weekend Masses Nov. 14 and 15.

When Heather Novak, a parishioner of St. Joseph’s, heard Keeling introducing the prayer initiative at Mass, she became teary-eyed.

“This concept of learning about and praying for others is exactly why I became a teacher,” said Novak, who teaches at BlueSky School, an online charter school. “Opening our minds to new things and new people helps us understand them better. We need more of these opportunities in order to promote peace in our community and in the world.”

Families and individuals participating in the program were asked to answer a series of questions, such as how long they have lived in the St. Cloud area and what brought them there. Non-Hispanics were asked where their ancestors were from and what brought their ancestors to the United States. They were then matched up with another family or individual from the parishes. About 20 matches were made.

Heather and her husband Brandon, who is the co-defensive coordinator for the St. John’s University football team, have two Hispanic-American children. Sebastian, 11, was born in Peru and Luciana, 6, was born in Colombia.

“So the draw to [the Hispanic] community is very strong for us,” Heather said.

Participants were given a picture of their prayer partner with a brief description and their prayer request on the back.

Keeling suggested that the partners find a special place for the card in their home, like the dining room table, where they remember them daily in prayer.

The Novaks are partnered with a Hispanic woman named Lucia Torres Ramirez.

“She has young children and shared with us her struggles as an immigrant, having decided to reach for her dreams for her family despite the great challenges,” Brandon said. “We have been praying for her family every day during our dinnertime prayers.”

He said the greatest part of the evening prayer is that their family realizes that praying for others and putting others before themselves is a powerful thing.

“[We are] learning about a specific family and their circumstances, putting specific faces and names to issues we may have only read about before,” Heather said. “Just like anything in this world, when you can personalize something with names and faces, you have more of a connection. It feels more personal.”

For Torres Ramirez, Advent is a time  for preparation and hope.

“We need to pray and worship as a family because we are all brothers and sisters, and this prayer as a family is even more powerful. I think that God wants us united at this important time,” she said.

The Novaks agree. They say the initiative helps them to focus on others at a time when it’s easy to get wrapped up in all of the busyness of the season.

“Getting to know people builds bridges and opens doors for future relationships,” Brandon said. “What better way to learn about someone and feel connected to them than to pray for them? Bringing people from different cultures together in a situation like this starts the relationship with a commonality: a love for God and his church.”

Lasting relationships

Though the project began in Advent, it extends through Jan. 3, Immigration Sunday. The following week, on Jan. 10, participants in the prayer project will meet and share a meal and conversation.

Keeling hopes that this becomes an annual tradition and that more people will get involved in the initiative and other issues that affect the Hispanic community.

The social justice committee raises awareness about immigration issues and supports legislative advocacy on behalf of immigrants, most notably federal immigration reform and, locally, the statewide driver’s license bill, which would enable immigrant families to fulfill their basic obligations like getting to work and school.

“My hope would be an opening to understanding that these people came for the same reasons our ancestors came,” Keeling said. “It has been our goal as a social justice committee to develop a relationship with the Hispanic parishioners … not only to develop relationships but see them as real brothers and sisters, willing to stand up for their cause. It feels good to find a project that could plant the seeds.”