September 10, 2015

For Father Germán Pérez-Díaz, ministering to families at Holy Angels Parish of Sturgis, Michigan, has been a calling. During his early years as a priest, Father Pérez-Díaz repeatedly asked God to show him how he could accomplish what he saw as his primary mission as a priest: evangelization.

“I would ask for help to accomplish this mission more effectively and quickly,” he said. “The Lord responded to me that my mission was to the family. That day I thanked the Lord that He had answered. It was a revelation. Sometimes as pastors we are so focused on so many things. The family became very important to me.” He is currently a doctoral candidate in ministry at the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas, slated to complete his degree in 2017. Catholic Extension supports his education.

Focusing on families has allowed Father Pérez- Díaz to find many people of faith. But, he said, sometimes that faith is “covered in dust.” He and his parish must “clean up” and clear the vision.

“Once the dust is gone, a family can see a light,” he said. “That light can warm their lives and they can become alive. They have faith but we have to know how to remove the dust that is burying them.”

Father Pérez Díaz has developed programs designed to build all sides of the family, including religious education attended by 140 men and women each Sunday. Six couples lead the program, and he particularly enjoys seeing the “men with Bibles under their arms.”

“Usually with catechism, only women come," he said. "Here it’s men and women, and they both come together and support one another.”

Father Germán Pérez-Díaz has developed several programs to support and strengthen the families in his parish as well.

“Parenting,” he said, “is a Eucharistic activity because from the first moment of conception, children ‘consume’ us, our flesh, blood, energy, time and resources. If we didn’t sacrifice ourselves, our children would not have life. This is the ‘priesthood of parenting.’ Christ is present in this self-sacrifice.”

Also, twice a month on Friday evenings, the parish members gather for Mass, to pray the rosary, recite psalms, sing and share their daily experiences. Children participate in evening adoration, followed by all-night adoration for adults. Teens also meet twice a month in groups of four to six to discuss their faith and their challenges. This, Father Pérez-Díaz said, helps them have a church community they trust implicitly, and makes them more likely to be evangelizers of the Church in future years. The programs bring families from different ethnic backgrounds together, a unity that, in his experience, doesn’t always happen in diverse parishes.

And the structure of the parish has changed: Although Father Pérez-Díaz is the formal leader, he has given much responsibility to families. Parishioners now often look to their neighbors for leadership.

“We’ve become a lay parish where the real leaders are the laypeople,” he said. Catholic Extension funds much of the lay training at Holy Angels. Father Pérez-Díaz is grateful that “through generosity and commitment, Catholic Extension is helping to raise the saints of this century.”

His plan has two goals: to encourage every parishioner to have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, and to cultivate families to become excellent evangelists. Parents will teach Catholic traditions to their children, who will in turn pass them along to their children. The home, he said, becomes a place of mission, a territory for evangelization. And if parishioners can evangelize their homes, they’re on their way to making progress elsewhere.

“It’s like a cell; it reproduces itself,” he said. “The family is the first soil for the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. There’s no better place to preach.”

Read more stories about the intersection of the Catholic faith and the family in the Fall issue of Extension magazine. Download PDF

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