INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- "Tomas, cual es tu dia favorito?" "Domingo."
Translation: "Thomas, what is your favorite day?" Answer: "Sunday."
That simple exchange between instructor Leticia Chaparro from a local language school and Deacon Thomas Ward was an example of how English-speaking parish leaders in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis spent a week recently taking part in a Spanish immersion experience developing skills, approaches and frameworks that will help them minister to the area's growing Latino community.
"This is the first time we've done this here in the archdiocese. The idea of having this program came about because we've been looking for opportunities to offer something like this to both the English- and Spanish-speaking Catholics here," explained Franciscan Brother Moises Gutierrez, OFM, archdiocesan coordinator of Hispanic ministry, who organized the program.
Each day of the immersion program had five parts: Spanish lessons as a group, focus groups (priests and deacons, music directors, catechetical and pastoral ministries), a culinary experience (the class went to a different Hispanic restaurant every day); one-on-one Spanish lessons, and learning about various aspects of Hispanic culture, Brother Gutierrez said. The participants also attended Mass in Spanish every day, and spent one night at a local Latino family's home to experience how they live.
"For the cultural lessons, we included Hispanic immigration, (Our Lady of) Guadalupe and popular religiosity, Latino traditions, and skills needed to appreciate people from other cultures," he told The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese.
"The main goal of the program was to give the participants the skills to feel more comfortable worshipping and ministering with Hispanics in the parishes, and to give them a basic grasp of pastoral Spanish language," he said. "The plan was to motivate them to continue finding ways to work on their Spanish and to reach out to Spanish-speaking parishioners."
Father John McCaslin, pastor of St. Anthony Parish and administrator of Holy Trinity Parish, both in Indianapolis, hosted the classes at neighboring Padua Academy. He was happy to see the immersion experience take place.
"The impetus of this (program) is a growing awareness in our archdiocese of the Latino or Hispanic population, which is a growing segment of our church," said Father McCaslin, who is bilingual and ministers to the area's growing number of Hispanics.
"We want to form leaders of our community to be better prepared, to have a better understanding of the newest members of our community, and also to be ministers of hospitality, which is critical, whether you speak Spanish or not," he said. "Even a simple phrase can make a huge difference in whether or not someone feels welcome."
Deacon Ward, who ministers to a significant Hispanic congregation at St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis, attended the weeklong workshop because he wanted to improve his Spanish communications skills and learn more about the Latino culture.
He especially enjoyed spending the night at the home of a Latino family and learning about their culture.
"When we sat down to eat, when we prayed, the whole family included me," he said. "I felt very welcome. I felt spoiled."
Dominican Father John Meany, pastor of St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington, said he hopes the experience helps him when he ministers in the future.
"I haven't studied Spanish for 50 years. When I was in high school was the last time I took Spanish," he said. "I'm most interested in the pronunciation, at this point, so I can say the Mass."
Mary Lamperski, a member of St. Mary Parish in Indianapolis, was moved by the immersion program.
"My heart has expanded," she said. "I want to understand more. I belong to a parish that has a lot of Hispanics, and I want to connect more."
Father McCaslin said he hopes those who participated in the immersion experience help build bridges in their faith communities and they will be regarded as "a symbol of an archdiocese that understands the importance of hospitality, that we don't need to be afraid of our non-English-speaking Catholics," he said.
Latinos are "a great gift" to the Catholic Church, the priest said. "They bring a unique expression of Catholicism that brings new life into our own expression of Catholicism. They bring a new energy to the church as well, and a great hunger for knowing the faith, as well as a great desire to share it."
Copyright (c) 2013 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops