Idaho (CNS) — In the 1980s, a wave of migrants from Mexico and other Latin
American countries began to settle in Idaho.
agricultural industry made the state a prime location for these immigrants, who
could work on the farms and ranches, often without having to know too much English
or provide legal documents to secure employment.
also presented the statewide Diocese of Boise — one of the Catholic home mission
dioceses in the U.S. — with a set of challenges.
the big migration, Idaho had a predominantly white population and there was
little need for Spanish-speaking priests, religious sisters or deacons.
church, schools and government were not prepared for their arrival, said Father
Jesus Camacho, parochial vicar of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Boise, who was
ordained in his native Mexico in 1975.
Father Camacho arrived in Boise in 1981, he was one of only two priests from
Mexico in the diocese and there was no Hispanic ministry.
had been invited to come to Idaho by then-Boise Bishop Sylvester W. Treinen, who was trying to address
the language and cultural barriers presented by the new Mexican arrivals, most
of whom were Catholic and were looking to the church to meet their pastoral
needs and to establish community.
was a need everywhere for someone to translate for Spanish-speaking people into
English,” Father Camacho said. “In the very beginning, I was
frequently invited by the police department, by hospitals, by schools, because
there was not at that time the presence of bilingual people around.”
wave of Latinos continued through the 1990s and into the 21st century.
made up about 10 percent of Idaho’s Catholic population in the early 1980s and
now it’s more than 50 percent, according to the diocese’s official statistics.
home mission diocese, with limited resources, had to adjust to the changing
demographic, much like the rest of the country, but it happened earlier and
faster in Idaho than in the country as a whole, said Bishop Peter F.
Christensen, the current bishop of Boise.
the development of Hispanic ministries, the recruitment of more
Spanish-speaking priests and a lot of grant money from the U.S. bishops’
Catholic Home Missions Appeal, the diocese has been able to address the needs
of its large Latino population, Bishop Christensen told Catholic News Service
during an interview in Boise.
the Mass in Spanish and knowing there are more people like me, who grew up with
these traditions in the church, makes me feel like I’m at home in my parish,”
said Esmeralda Orozco, a Mexican native living near Jerome.
majority of the priests in Idaho are now bilingual, but the diocese’s
adaptation went beyond the language barrier, said Father Rob Irwin, pastor of
St. Jerome Catholic Church in Jerome.
many of the younger priests in Idaho are natives of Latin American countries,
Father Irwin grew up in Oregon in a traditional white American family.
he has immersed himself in Hispanic culture, especially Latino church traditions.
day after Halloween, he went to the cemetery near his church with several Anglo
and Latino families to bless the graves on the Day of the Dead.
one of many Hispanic traditions that Father Irwin incorporates into his
ministry and encourages participate by his Anglo parishioners.
Francis often talks about welcoming the stranger. He also frequently discusses
the need for an accepting and diverse church.
Curtis J. Guillory of Beaumont, Texas, another U.S. mission diocese, told CNS
that cultural preservation is as important as bringing together diverse communities
within the church.
challenge is to help people to realize that we are of one faith, one baptism
and that we can enrich the church and each other through our cultural
diversity,” Bishop Guillory said during an interview in Beaumont.
Boise, the Beaumont Diocese has a large Hispanic population, but the churches
also have sizable numbers of African-American, Asian and Anglo parishioners, he
1915, St. Katharine Drexel and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament founded
three parishes for black Catholics in the Texas towns of Beaumont, Port Arthur
and Orange, the same year she founded Xavier University of Louisiana in New
St. Katharine Drexel was a
Philadelphia heiress who used her personal fortune to fund Catholic schools and
parishes for blacks and Native Americans.
Those black parishes are a symbol of
the proud history the Beaumont Diocese has in serving diverse communities, said
Father Lowell Case, pastor of Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church in Beaumont.
also is a vivid tradition of pastoral care to Native American Catholics in the
mission dioceses of Gallup, New Mexico, and Juneau, Alaska, as well as others
throughout the United States.
connection is encouraged in many of the U.S. mission dioceses.
Jean Pauline Lockulu is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and is
serving as a priest in the Diocese of Juneau. While he shares his religious
traditions with his parishioners, he said his faith is enriched by the cultural
expression of the Native Americans who attend his church.
cross-cultural experience in church may be ideal, but it doesn’t always pan out.
Adrian Vazquez, an administrator of four faith communities in eastern Idaho,
told CNS that he often encourages his Anglo parishioners to participate in the
Our Lady of Guadalupe festivities, which is a traditional feast day in the
the priest manages to pique the interest of only a few white parishioners each
of the Anglos don’t know that much about Our Lady of Guadalupe and feel like
they would rather just celebrate their devotion to Mary on the feast of the Immaculate
Conception,” Father Vazquez said.
native of Mexico sometimes celebrates a bilingual Mass to accommodate all
members of his church communities, mostly because his time is spread so thin
that holding separate Masses in English and Spanish isn’t always practical.
come, but afterward they say, ‘Father, we really would appreciate two Masses,
one in English and one in Spanish,'” he said. “They do not totally
reject it, but you see the expressions.”
connection is not always easy, Bishop Guillory said.
tell the pastors that it’s something that they have to educate and promote,”
he said. “Because there is a certain amount of fear of a different culture
and sometimes even prejudice. So, we have to break through that.
we break through that it’s amazing in what happens,” Bishop Guillory said.
often gets in the way of humanity, he said, “because we remain on the
cultural level. A lot of times, that’s all stereotypes and how we get below the
cultural level to our humanity is in dialogue. Coming together, understanding,
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Contributing to this story was Tyler Orsburn in Beaumont.
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Chaz Muth on Twitter: @Chazmaniandevyl.
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