Archbishop Lucas poses for a photo with graduates of the archdiocese’s Hispanic leadership training and other participants Nov. 18 at El Centro Pastoral Tepeyac in Omaha. COURTESY PHOTO

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Training prepares, unites Hispanic leaders

For years, Hispanics have had the opportunity to participate in numerous Catholic organizations and movements in the Archdiocese of Omaha.

But amid the many blessings there were problems. Sometimes the groups competed for membership, lacked organization or experienced conflicts, two archdiocese officials said.

So the leaders of the groups, which involve thousands of Catholics, started getting together at quarterly meetings and their differences began to disappear, said Father Scott Hastings, vicar for clergy and judicial vicar for the archdiocese, who helped coordinate those meetings.

But soon the leaders of the Hispanic organizations wanted more. They wanted formation as Catholic leaders.

The archdiocese responded with Hispanic leadership training that was spread over three years and ended this fall, with about 108 people participating, including 18 who completed all three years.

The classes were two-hour sessions held on Monday evenings for six weeks each year and open to anyone who was interested, Father Hastings said.

Topics included leadership topics such as conflict resolution, communication and community development, as well as theology, catechesis and evangelization.

The archdiocese is already seeing the fruits of the training, said Father Hastings and Deacon Gregorio Elizalde, manager of the Hispanic Ministry Office for the archdiocese and El Centro Pastoral Tepeyac in Omaha.

Deacon Elizalde said he is grateful to the archdiocese for the unity that the leadership training fostered.

“We can work together to serve the people of God without any feeling of competition,” he said. There are about a dozen groups or movements that serve Hispanics in the archdiocese.

The training helped the leaders to increasingly feel part of the archdiocese, he said, forming them into a “bridge” connecting Hispanic Catholics with the rest of the archdiocese.

Having a team of Latino leaders in place is important as the archdiocese makes pastoral plans in southeast Omaha, Father Hastings said.

The Catholic Hispanic community has been strengthened, he said, becoming more organized and involving more people, he said. “We have a committed, active group of Spanish-speaking leaders.”

“There’s a real eagerness there that’s easy to capitalize on,” Father Hastings said. The formation was a response to a request and not something that was created “hoping someone will come.”

Latinos are well aware of a larger Catholic Church problem of declining membership. For every person that enters the Church, six leave, Father Hastings said.

“They see the problem,” he said of the Latino leaders, and ask, “How can we become part of the solution?”

The training sessions, held each year in the fall, were first at St. Peter Parish in Omaha but moved to El Centro Pastoral Tepeyac in Omaha after it opened this year.

Presenters included Father Hastings; Deacon Elizalde; Father Jairo Enrique Congote, associate pastor of Divine Mercy Parish in Schuyler; Father Rafael Majano, associate pastor of Assumption-Guadalupe Parish in Omaha; Deacon Luis Valadez of Assumption-Guadalupe; Deacon Alberto Martinez of St. Patrick Parish in Fremont; and Bart Zavaletta, theology teacher at V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha.

A total of 160 volunteers made the training possible, Deacon Elizalde said.

The archdiocese likely will offer the training again, Father Hastings said, but the format might change. Officials are discussing how to best present the classes again, he said.