The Diocese of Salt Lake City makes great strides in Hispanic ministry

In Utah’s high desert country, Catholics are in the minority. Yet in the Diocese of Salt Lake City, which covers the entire state, the church is growing. The influx of Hispanic families, many of whom work in the region’s mines, farms and factories, are fueling this growth. In fact, 80 percent of the diocese is Spanish-speaking. In Utah, parishes are scattered in remote places where people work hard, six days a week. To Catholics in this region, churches are a sign of hope. They bring people together in faith.

With a shortage of Spanish-speaking priests, lay leaders are becoming increasingly important here. The diocese runs a successful lay leadership-training program. But, according to Susan Northway, director of religious education for the diocese, that program was difficult to replicate for the Hispanic community.

“Many people don’t have computers, so they can’t do courses online,” she said. With $51,300 in funding from Catholic Extension donors, the diocese was able to create a four-year, lay ecclesial ministry formation program specifically for its Hispanic leaders. The program included hiring bilingual staff with expertise in this area.

Now, once a month, 74 people drive six to eight hours round-trip to prepare for service to the Church. These are people with jobs and families; Northway considers them heroic. “They are making a tremendous sacrifice, but they are so eager. These are the leaders who are keeping their communities together through the Church,” she said. “As they go through their training, they also are forming a community with each other. We are so very fortunate Catholic Extension has provided the funding to make this happen.”

In 2010, Catholic Extension donors provided $1 million for lay leadership training throughout the mission dioceses. By empowering lay ministers to build strong communities, Catholics in Utah and across the country are experiencing an increasing level of excellence in Church life.

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