The Visitor

For Mario and Alejandra Mancilla, Pelican Rapids is mission territory.

The couple, members of St. Leonard Parish, are not missionaries in the traditional sense of those who bring the Good News to a foreign land. Their work is focused at home, offering continuing education and formation in a parish and diocese with a growing Latino population — one rich in faith but short on pastoral resources that meet its needs.

The Mancillas help coordinate liturgical and other events and ministries at the parish. And they assist families preparing for baptisms and weddings.

Mancillas“We are a bridge between the people and the pastor,” Alejandra said.

The Mancillas attended the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis’ meeting Sept. 26 with members of the Hispanic community and immigrants at Independence National Historical Park

They also were among more than 130 Catholic Hispanic/Latino leaders who work in family ministries in the United States and Latin America who met in Philadelphia Sept. 21, prior to the World Meeting of Families, to reflect on the opportunities and challenges facing Spanish-speaking families across the continent.

“We shared the challenges in our communities here and heard from others in the United States working in the same kind of ministry. What we noticed was that the challenges are basically the same,” Alejandra said.

Some of the challenges they identified were that Hispanics do not always feel welcomed in parishes; others struggle to find common ground with second generation immigrants.

“The kids, who now speak English, don’t feel like they belong in the Hispanic community but they also feel they don’t fit in with the Anglos,” Mario said. “How do we help these second generation kids? That’s a big challenge for us. If we don’t do something now, what will happen in 20 years?”

Mario and Alejandra noticed that people they talked to at the conference from various dioceses have the same concerns.

“The difference is some dioceses have tools they are using,” Mario said. “We feel a little behind. What we have here is good, but we are just getting started.”

This gathering, known as Primer Encuentro Hispano-Latino Americano de Familias (First Encounter of Hispanic and Latin American Families, or PEHLAF, its acronym in Spanish), includes Latino family life ministers from across the country as well as representatives from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and delegations from several bishops’ conferences in Latin America.

Mayuli Bales, director of multicultural ministries for the Diocese of St. Cloud, said she is hopeful about the future of Hispanic ministry in the diocese and is grateful that the U.S. bishops see this as a priority.

Bales said that demographically, the Catholic Latino population is expected to top 50 percent by 2020 in the U.S. and that Latino communities here in the diocese are just not prepared to pastorally care for such a rise.

Bales said that, for the Mancillas, participation in the First Encounter is an opportunity to connect with others doing the same kind of ministry and to establish relationships that they will rely on in the future.

“Most important is to help Latinos have a personal encounter with Jesus but also we want to be connected with others and come together,” she said.

Mario noted that he feels he and Alejandra are trying to do their part.

“If we don’t start getting lay people in formation, we are going to lose [people]. We need to get ready. We need to prepare lay people for the growing community,” he said.

Alejandra said the needs of Hispanic people often are not being met spiritually and because of a communication barrier with priests who don’t speak Spanish.

“If I want to go to confession, even for me, it is not the same when it is not in my native language,” she said.

By attending the conference, the Mancillas said they gleaned hope for their ministry. “We are relieved to see that somebody is doing something at a national level. That is comforting to me. Maybe we won’t see anything for a year but it takes patience. It’s moving,” she said.

Mario said he also has gained a better understanding and feels encouraged to move forward in his ministry. “I was impressed by others attending the meeting who had worked for many years with Hispanic marriage ministry. They say this is how you learn. To be a good formator, you have to have experience, you have to know your manual but you also have to feel it.”

At the end of the conference, the Mancillas received a Spanish family Bible and participated in “lectio divina” — a practice of Scripture reading, meditation and prayer. Both felt moved by the practice and are excited to bring that back to their community in Pelican Rapids.

The Mancillas are grateful for the opportunity to have met others who are doing the same kind of work they are doing and are excited to continue sharing best practices with people in the Diocese of St. Cloud.

“Even a year ago, we didn’t know about the other Hispanic communities here like Long Prairie and Melrose,” Mario said. “Now we have connections with people and they call us and we share what we are doing in our community and then put it into practice.”

“There are leaders in these communities,” Alejandra added, “but what is needed is formation. There are people who are willing to give their time, their money toward this, but they need to hear from people who know what to talk about.”

Bales said her goal is to maximize resources in the Hispanic communities and that means getting people to work together in teams, break silos and build relationships.

“Pelican Rapids is one of the most vibrant parishes,” she said. “My job and their job is how to cross together the bridge of communication, how to help others understand the needs. We will continue building bridges, making sure they have the tools they need to build small faith communities so that every family can be a domestic church.”