Evangelizing starts at home

By Becky Aubut, Anchor Staff

LAWRENCE, Mass. — When 10-year-old Guadalupe Ospino arrived from Guatemala in 1992, her parents brought their Catholic faith to the footsteps of St. Patrick’s Parish in Stoneham and helped create a strong Spanish-speaking community in the parish.

“It wasn’t easy as compared to arriving to an already established Spanish-speaking community,” recalled Ospino, “but they did a lot of the groundwork.”

The groundwork included an annual Marian celebration in September, weekly prayer groups, visiting homes to pray the Rosary, posadas, Christmas Novenas and adding a bilingual Mass to the schedule that already included a Spanish-speaking Mass. The Spanish community began with 15-20 and now has grown to more than 100 people celebrating the annual Spanish-based events.

“Those first memories really gave me an example of what it means to have a strong commitment to one’s faith,” said Ospino. “I think it would have been easy for my parents to say they didn’t want to do it, to spend the time contacting people, doing all these things, looking for resources — they didn’t have to but it was important for them to express their faith that was familiar to them.”

After earning her bachelor’s in social psychology and master’s in pastoral theology, Ospino joined her husband at St. Patrick’s Parish in Lawrence as co-coordinator of the parish’s Hispanic ministry.

There was already an established Spanish community at St. Patrick’s but it has continued to grow under the Ospinos’ guidance. Ospino’s husband, Hosffman, has helped organized the Spanish community by providing opportunities for adult Faith Formation and Religious Education programs in Spanish.

“I think one of the challenges of many Spanish-speaking communities is they don’t have a model to follow to get organized,” said Ospino. “You have people from different backgrounds with different ideas of what a parish community should look like, but when they come to the United States, that changes. What worked in Mexico may not necessarily work here with the youth; or how a Religious Education program was held in the Dominican Republic may not translate into the context of the United States.

“You have all these experiences together and you’re trying to make them work. When you talk about Hispanic ministry, you’re not just talking about ministry done in Spanish; they may share a language but have different cultural backgrounds.”

Ospino says she understands the challenges families face, especially young adults, which is why programs like Fe Y Vida (www.feyvida.org) are such a valuable resource: “They have an amazing program that helps young adults coordinate youth groups because it’s not just about [going to church], you really have to have a structure and a program to follow — that leads to growth.”

Regardless of a family’s cultural background, the parents are the foundation that children use to form their own commitment to faith. Ospino credits her own parents for helping shape her Catholic identity: “In order to be effective Catholic parents, we really need to think about our own personal commitment to faith. Going back to my parents, their commitment to our faith was very strong, therefore they went above and beyond what was required of them to help us and live our faith. I tell parents you really need to lead by example; you can’t just baptize your baby, bring him or her to Religious Education and expect this person to grow up to be a committed Catholic. It just doesn’t work that way.”

Parents need to think about their personal commitment to their faith, and it can start with self-exploration. Ospino suggests parents make a journal and take note of how many times the family attends Mass, prays together, or reads Bible passages. If you want your children committed, it starts with the parents, said Ospino, and it helps if both parents are on the same page.

“In my experience, both my parents had their different gifts. My mom had the leadership role, and my dad was there to help in any way. To me, that’s a lesson that God gives us different gifts, and you are blessed if you can find a partner who can complement your gifts,” said Ospino.

Ospino added, “It’s important to create a strong Catholic identity. It’s ideal when you have two parents at home, but I always tell them that it doesn’t take away that if it’s just mom or dad — whatever children see at home will make a difference in their lives.”

Children should know what’s negotiable and non-negotiable, said Ospino: “I always tell my four-year-old son, what is good for your health and things related to faith are non-negotiable. Going to Mass is non-negotiable. Being respectful to others is non-negotiable. Praying is non-negotiable; that’s time as a family we need to spend together — anything can wait but those things need to happen when we’re together.” 

Challenges, like sports conflicting with Religious Education, should be non-negotiable issues: “If you let your child know that going to basketball is more important than going to Mass or Religious Education, that says a lot about your commitment to your faith,” said Ospino.

She cited the Patriots recent Super Bowl win and how families went to see the parade together, dressing in their favorite Patriots’ player jersey; “It’s freezing cold but they’re all making an effort and celebrating, so you know as a family they celebrate the Patriots,” said Ospino. “Well, as Catholics we need to do the same thing. We need to have a strong identity as Catholics. What makes us Catholic? It’s a question parents need to ask themselves, and needs to be answered for their children.”

Parishes can play a huge role in helping shape the parental commitment. When families come to St. Patrick’s Parish in Lawrence, said Ospino, adults are invited to join prayer groups if prayer is important in their lives. If they have children, parents are invited to volunteer or serve in the Religious Education program. The parish immediately engages the parents in a welcoming atmosphere that can help the parents shape their faith, and then spread that commitment to the children at home.

“It’s really the responsibility of the parish to offer a place for parents to participate actively in the parish,” said Ospino. “I tell many of the leaders of the parish that if they see families with small children, offer a smile and tell them we’re happy they’re here. Offer a welcoming space for families; they need so much support. The best resource for parents is to be a welcoming parish.”

Children pick up cues from their parents, said Ospino, and if you want your children to be dedicated Catholics, it doesn’t start with a parent simply telling their children to go to church: “We need to create a strong Catholic identity, and families can decide what that looks like.”

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