January 11, 2008

Advent faith-sharing program unites cultures at St. Monica Parish

Jason Figueroa, left, and Amber Tlaxcala portray Joseph and Mary as part of the posada on Dec. 23 at St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

Jason Figueroa, left, and Amber Tlaxcala portray Joseph and Mary as part of the posada on Dec. 23 at St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

By Mary Ann Wyand

Eighty St. Monica parishioners in Indianapolis are starting the New Year as friends thanks to a bilingual faith-sharing program during Advent.

The 2,880-household, multicultural parish offers six Masses each weekend—including a Misa en Español—so many parishioners never meet the Catholics who attend other liturgies.

In December 2006, only 10 Latino and Anglo parishioners participated in St. Monica’s first bilingual Advent faith-sharing group organized by the Hispanic ministry committee.

In December 2007, 80 Hispanic, African-American and Anglo parishioners overcame the Spanish and English language barrier by sharing their stories through pictures, creating Advent decorations and—most of all—making new friends with help from translators.

“I feel like these weeks of coming together is a real proof that love is the common language that bonds, that unites, us all together as one, which was clearly manifested in today’s gathering,” Benedictine Sister Anna Marie Megel, pastoral associate for Hispanic ministry, explained after the Feliz Navidad celebration and posada on Dec. 23 at the Indianapolis West Deanery parish.

St. Monica parishioner Gerardo Dimas of Indianapolis helped translate during faith-sharing conversations and explained the posada tradition cherished by Latinos.

“In Mexico, we do this [posada] from the 16th to the 24th of December,” Dimas told the group. “We do songs and some people are asking for shelter, representing Mary and Joseph, and other groups are inside the houses. Mary and Joseph [dressed in costumes] keep going to houses … until they are received.

“While we are waiting for the posada, we pray the rosary at the Nativity set and then we share food, the food of the season,” he said. “Usually, in Mexico, that is tamales, cookies and hot chocolate. … It is very beautiful, and also we share the piñata. It is to represent the evil so it has to be destroyed. The only ones who might destroy the evil is the children because they are innocent. … After they destroy the evil, good comes from it. That is represented by the candies in the piñata.”

Last year, Dimas said, the outdoor posada was “a little cold” so they celebrated it inside at the parish this year.

“Maybe our posada won’t be close to what we do in Mexico,” he said, “but we are trying a little bit to live the same way. I hope you can enjoy it and feel the meaning of Christmas as Christians.”

Many Hispanic Catholics are not able to return to their homeland for Christmas, Dimas said, so the parish celebration of Feliz Navidad is very important to them as they pass these holiday traditions on to their children and grandchildren.

Father Scott Nobbe, associate pastor of St. Monica Parish, said about one-fifth of the parish membership is Hispanic, and he is happy to see members of the Anglo and Hispanic communities become friends.

“To jump … to 80 people in one year just shows that there is a big desire for parishioners to know one another that don’t actually have a lot of interaction throughout the course of their daily journeys,” Father Nobbe said. “So especially during Advent, when we focus on preparation for the coming of Christ, it’s good for us to come together every Sunday to share friendship, to share faith, to share traditions and to share stories from their families. A lot of people have such diverse backgrounds within this small [faith-sharing] community. It’s amazing how people react to one another now that they know each other. I look forward to this program continuing.”

In addition to the posada presented by Hispanic children, members of the faith-sharing group exchanged inexpensive gifts at the suggestion of a Latino participant.

Parishioner Pinkie Evans, who is African-American, knitted a prayer shawl for Maria Pimental-Gannon, who is Hispanic, and prayed for unity in diversity.

“We’re all on a journey,” Evans said. “Everyone has different life stories. There are all these people that go to the same church I do, and I don’t know them. My whole purpose in coming was to meet new people, to make new friends, in our big parish.”

The Advent faith-sharing program is “all about Jesus and new life and friendship and new ways of being Church,” committee member Dede Swinehart said. “It’s our parish together.”

Committee member Lynne Brennan said Hispanics who cannot go home for Christmas are “happy they can welcome the Christ Child in their own way here.”

Parishioner Marcos Payamos, a native of the Dominican Republic who became a U.S. citizen last March, has been a St. Monica parishioner for seven years.

“It’s good for us because we are wanting to celebrate Jesus Christ coming … because that is hope,” he said. “When you have God in your heart, you have everything. … When you have Jesus Christ, you don’t have differences. It is the same people, the same blood, the same Jesus Christ, the same God.” †

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