While the Diocese of Jackson expands more than 37,000 square miles, Catholics are a minority, representing less than 3 percent of its population. But the numbers of Hispanics in the area continue to grow, now reaching more than 54,000. But only about 5,000 belong to parishes. In recent years, the diocese has been stepping up its efforts to reach Hispanics and help them become more connected to the faith. More and more priests are learning to speak Spanish as a second language as well as the bishop, vicar general and CFO of the diocese. Masses in Spanish have tripled in the last 25 years, now with 27 parishes offering them.
This year, the diocese has nominated its Hispanic Ministry as its Lumen Christi nominee. Christian Brother Theodore Dausch has been involved with Hispanics for 20 years and coordinates the office of Hispanic Ministry. He is assisted by two Guadeloupean Sisters, Srs. Josefa Garcia Alvarez and Maria Elena Mendez.
The goal of their office is “to be a resource for the Hispanic community and for those who work with them,” they said. “And to evangelize, be present, offer outreach and form leaders.”
“Many in the Hispanic community arrive with limited education, little formation in the Catholic faith and low self-esteem,” said the ministers. “By providing programs on scripture and offering pastoral ministry, we help them develop self-confidence and a willingness to share their faith and to assume leadership in their parishes as prayer group leaders and on parish councils.” Hispanic leaders are emerging, thanks to these outstanding efforts.
For the past year, they have worked hard to prepare for the national V Encuentro (“encounter”) convention, held in September outside of Dallas. The V Encuentro is a four-year process that starts with the parish level. Its aim is to encourage more participation of Hispanics in the U.S. Catholic Church and to help them gain leadership roles. The Hispanic Ministry team in Jackson organized workshops at two parishes in the dioceses to strategize about Encuentro; about 200 people attended each event.
Catholic Extension has supported Hispanic ministry in the diocese since 1994, with grants totaling more than $300,000. Additionally, we have funded training opportunities for Hispanics at conferences and universities and helped to create a new position of coordinator for Youth Adult Hispanic Ministry in the dioceses.
The ministers are committed to building a strong Hispanic community in the diocese. “We are a bridge for Hispanics in this world and they are a bridge to God for us,” they said.