Columbus parish celebrating 20 years of offering a Spanish Mass

Rosario and Rosa Pacheco say the Spanish Mass at St. Bonaventure Parish in Columbus – which is celebrating 20 years of serving the Hispanic community – has fostered their faith and created for them a family of faith.

When the couple arrived in Columbus 24 years ago from Chihuahua, Mexico, they spent the first four years driving 20 miles each Sunday to St. Augustine Church in Schuyler to attend the closest Mass in Spanish. It helped alleviate their homesickness.

Having a Spanish Mass start in January 1997 at St. Bonaventure made them feel welcomed in their own parish, they said.

"It makes you feel that God didn’t abandon you, and that he came with you," said Rosa, an usher at the parish. "The faith is one of the things that you always take with you no matter where you go; but it makes you feel grateful when it can be expressed in your own language."

Archbishop George J. Lucas will help celebrate that 20-year tradition by presiding March 19 at the 1:30 p.m. Spanish Mass at St. Bonaventure Church. A reception will be held after Mass in the cafeteria at Scotus Central Catholic Junior-Senior High School in Columbus.

The Pachecos are two of nearly 400 people who regularly attend the Spanish Mass at St. Bonaventure – a parish formed in 1877 to serve German and Polish Catholics in Columbus, but that now serves about 460 Hispanic families among its 1,680 parish families.

Father Michael Swanton, pastor of St. Bonaventure, said the Spanish Mass has helped Spanish-speaking Catholics in the parish better connect with their culture and traditions, and fostered the faith of the entire parish.

For example, Jovenes Para Cristo, a new religious education program that builds leaders and encourages greater participation at Mass and in the parish, has brought a lot of new life to the parish, Father Swanton said.

The Spanish Mass began in Columbus after several Spanish-speaking women in the parish collected signatures of people who wanted to have a Mass in their native language. With those signatures and plans for organizing the Mass, the parish sought permission from the archdiocese.

Since then, many Spanish-speaking priests have been involved in offering the Spanish Mass – often traveling from Madison or Schuyler each week. Currently, Father Gerry Gonderinger and Father Gregory Congote, pastor and assistant pastor of Divine Mercy Parish in Schuyler – which also offers Masses in Spanish at St. Augustine and St. Mary churches – preside at the Spanish Mass in Columbus.

Spanish-speaking people have helped shape Catholic ministry in northeast Nebraska since before the archdiocese was founded, but ministry to a growing number of Hispanics formally began in 1919 in a store-front chapel that marked the beginning of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish (now Assumption-Guadalupe Parish) in Omaha.

In the years since and depending on need, the archdiocese has encouraged parishes to offer Masses in Spanish and bring other forms of Hispanic ministry to Spanish-speaking parishioners.

"It is commonly said that we pray to God from the depths of our heart in our native tongue," said Father Carl Zoucha, pastor of Assumption-Guadalupe. "Mass is a prayer where one not only receives graces from God as he hears his Word and receives Jesus in the Eucharist, but also where he lifts up his praise and petitions. So the value of the Mass in Spanish is that those whose first language is Spanish can pray better."

Traditional Spanish music during a Mass also helps Latinos connect to their Catholic heritage and customs and build community as a family of faith, Father Zoucha said.

"Our faith claims that the Christian discipleship is good for society because of our call to love our neighbor and to practice virtue," he said. "Offering the Mass and catechism classes in Spanish helps our parishioners from Hispanic countries to participate in society in a better way."

Masses in different languages also have enriched the universality of the church because they foster the integration of different cultures to the church as the Body of Christ, said Deacon Gregorio Elizalde, director of the Latino Ministry Office for the archdiocese.

"The Spanish Mass is a welcome place to express their culture and profess their faith in a more plentiful way," he said. "It also is the invitation to participate in different activities of the parish. People who feel part of the parish will always be open to integrate themselves into the vision and mission of the church."

Rocio Adame, Hispanic minister at St. Bonaventure Parish in Columbus, said she and others in her community are grateful to the parish and pastors who have made the Spanish Mass a priority.

"The Hispanic population is changing," she said. "Now we are seeing second generation Hispanics who can speak English, but there is a priceless gift to live our faith in a language that connects with our relatives in a deeper way."

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