In so many ways Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in North Carolina is an almost ideal place to start our tour of how the Eastern Province welcomes the stranger. With some 4,000 engaged each Sunday, Our Lady of Guadalupe is the largest Hispanic parish and, indeed, one of the largest parishes in Charlotte. It is virtually 100% composed of immigrants, with 90% undocumented. It also has been quite actively doing all the things suggested by Pope Francis… Welcoming. Protecting, Promoting, and Integrating.
Fear – a fact of parish life!
Given the uncertainties of the political atmosphere today fear is a fact of life in Charlotte. Our current practice, moving well beyond a focus on deporting violent criminals, has led to great fear.
- Fear of leaving home to go to work and never seeing your family again.
- Fear of seeking much needed medical attention in order to avoid being reported.
- Fear of reporting labor abuses or sexual harassment might trigger deportation.
- Fear even of going to church!
The list has many variations.
Faith in the midst of fear
Yet in the midst of that fear, people remain firm in their faith in God. The parishioners of Our Lady of Guadalupe come together each Sunday to celebrate as a Eucharistic community. Their numbers even grew as people fled recent major hurricanes in Florida and came north.
Why? Because they feel welcome and at home in Our Lady of Guadalupe parish. It is a parish with the welcoming spirit of St. Vincent de Paul.
Welcoming is more than a sign
At each Mass newcomers are introduced and welcomed. They quickly draw comfort from celebrating their deeply held beliefs. For the family of Guadalupe, Eucharist extends throughout the day. The sense of family and community is palpable despite people coming from so many different countries. (And it is important to keep in mind how rich and varied are the cultures of people who speak Spanish.)
The welcome continues all day as parish staff, themselves immigrants, welcome them at all hours and with many needed services. The Louise de Marillac Service Center serves as a food pantry, volunteer doctors office, chiropractor’s office, Center for AA. Of course, they are looking to collaborate with other branches of the Vincentian Family. Father Greg Gay points out that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Vincentian Marian Youth and the Ladies of Charity come immediately to his mind)
Protecting is more than best wishes
Fr. Vince Finnerty is well-known and, more importantly, respected by various enforcement agencies. He has worked hard at building understanding and bridges of cooperation. It should be noted that the police force has also worked hard at building understanding and bridges of cooperation.
The parish assists in helping people know and understand their rights. They have identified a network of lawyers who understand the gut-wrenching stories. Among these stories is the story of a young boy whose serious illness requires shots twice a day and a mother’s love to keep him alive. Deporting his mother would have disastrous life-threatening consequences for this innocent child.
Five members of the parish who went to Vincentian Family Gathering in Texas. There they not only saw the diversity of the various branches. In workshops, they also learned from others in Texas how to protect each other. The parish bulletin each week includes information about their rights.
Promoting is “a hand up”
Promotion is very evident in the amount of faith formation and other self-improvement programs.
Some three hundred people have participated in three series of 5-week faith formation programs. The sense of being missionary disciples is actively fostered. Everyone has the opportunity become as involved as they are able.
It is no wonder that they quite involved in the Encuentro program sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for the pastoral integration of the Hispanic community.
“V Encuentro” is a two-year process of missionary activity, consultation, leadership development and pastoral discernment in parishes, dioceses and episcopal regions that culminates with a national event in 2019.
They seek to be “Joyful Disciples in Mission.”
Integrating is more than a slogan
All of the above literally come together in a palpable sense of community. Sunday is pivotal and the focus of the community. In contrast with many northern parishes, no one is in a hurry to go anywhere else after Mass. So many others things happen on these hallowed grounds.
Even during the week community is evident in what amounts to a local restaurant open Wednesday through Sunday, their busiest day. They serve breakfast, lunch, and supper. In effect, they have created a small thriving business and source of employment.
Liturgy is one of the vehicles of integration. Each national groups has its major festivals and the entire community joins the celebration. But the festival that integrates all cultures is the fest of our Lady of Guadalupe. The parish cannot contain the 4000 people so this major festival is celebrated at a local Convention Center.
In the midst of so many fears and uncertainties, the faith community of Our Lady of Guadalupe lives the welcome, protection, promotion and integration called for by Pope Francis.
An Affair of the Heart – A parishioners experience of the Vincentian Symposium in Rome.
An Experience of Comin Home and Community Service – A seminarian’s experience of learning about service and community.