November 3, 2017

Hispanic ministry coordinator finds joy in helping others

(En español)
  Saul Llacsa, new archdiocesan coordinator for Hispanic ministry, smiles before offering the opening words at the archdiocesan V Encuentro event at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish on Sept. 30. He started in the role in July. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Saul Llacsa, new archdiocesan coordinator for Hispanic ministry, smiles before offering the opening words at the archdiocesan V Encuentro event at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish on Sept. 30. He started in the role in July. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Saul Llacsa recalls the defining moment in his life with a quiet, reverent voice.

“I was 14 years old,” he says. “I saw my mother crying in my back yard, kneeling down and crying.

“I asked her, ‘Why are you crying?’ And she told me, ‘I beg God to bring every day food to our table.’

“I saw in her an example of Jesus Christ. Jesus laid down his life for us. At that point I said to myself, ‘Why can I not lay down my life so that others can live?’ ”

Since that day in his hometown of Tarija, Bolivia, in South America, Llacsa, now 31, has “felt God calling me to do more things—more than just helping others—to follow him.”

That call led him to Indianapolis, where this summer he became the archdiocesan coordinator of Hispanic Ministry in July.

But Llacsa has always had a heart for helping others through the Church.

“I grew up in the Church,” he says, noting that his mother was the coordinator of religious education for his parish.

After becoming a catechist himself, he says, “I was always trying to see what God was calling me to.

“It seemed I loved to help my neighbors. It seemed I really enjoyed doing things for them, things to help other people, that I can change some lives.

“And that was what was rewarding for me. Just to see other people happy, that made my heart happy.”

Nevertheless, his father wanted him to earn a law degree, “ ‘then you can do whatever you want with your life,’ ” Llacsa recalls.

He did earn his law degree, then went on to earn a master’s degree in Catholic philosophy as well as studying theology for two years.

In 2011, both of Llacsa’s parents died.

The year after, he joined his brother in Naperville, Ill.

“My brother told me, ‘Saul, would you like to learn English so you can help more people?’ That was very tempting!” Llacsa says with a laugh.

He attended seminary to become a priest for the Archdiocese of New York, but later discerned he was not called to the priesthood.

Llacsa’s years in the seminary were not without impact. As a seminarian in October of 2015, he was invited to serve a Vespers liturgy presided over by Pope Francis in New York.

“It was very touching to see Pope Francis face to face,” he said. “I got to hold the book for him. He is Peter, through all the divine succession. There are simply no words [to describe seeing] Peter the Rock in front of you.”

Oscar Castellanos, director of the archdiocesan Office of Intercultural Ministry, describes Llacsa’s role as archdiocesan Hispanic ministry coordinator as “becoming a liaison with other diocesan offices, other groups and ministries.”

“Ten years ago, [archdiocesan Hispanic ministry] was more focused on pastoral ministry as they were adapting to the culture,” Castellanos explains. “We were trying to provide the basic needs for sacramental preparation. …

“But it was becoming like a mini-diocese—providing services, but somehow disconnected with the greater Church.

“Now I see how [the archdiocesan role] is shifting more toward someone who can direct [parish] Hispanic ministries to the other offices. We’re trying to collaborate.”

The job is not without its challenges.

“There are cultural differences between Latinos,” Llacsa notes. “Latinos from South America are not all the same, and they are different from [Latinos from] North or Central America. Different communities have different needs, but we’re open to working with all of them.”

Regardless of what country Latino Catholics in the archdiocese hail from, Llacsa hopes “to help them to be more integrated and more useful to society, [and] to really also show the gifts and the beauty of the Latino people in the United States—but always keeping our focus on Jesus Christ.”

And when he’s not doing that, Llacsa likes to spend time in a few other places: in Naperville visiting family, on the road running, and in the kitchen baking.

“Growing up with three sisters and being the youngest [of seven], in some ways I was forced into the kitchen,” he says with a laugh.

His talent has not gone unnoticed.

“He’s already taking orders” for baked goods from his co-workers, says Castellanos.

More importantly, he says, Llacsa’s adaptability and his passion for the faith also stand out.

“We were looking for someone who had experience, yet [was] open to working in a situation that’s very unique, with transitioning to the new archbishop, with an office that is also transitioning,” says Castellanos, who has served less than a year in his own role.

“When we met Saul and had the interview, that was something we immediately noticed,” he says. “He was willing to say, ‘This is what I bring to the table, but I’m here to learn.’ …

“[And] number one is his passion when he talks about his faith. Every time I had the opportunity to talk on the phone or e-mail, I noticed his passion.”

That passion exudes from Llacsa.

“I love my Church so much,” he says. “My hope is in my God and my Church. That is what keeps me moving forward.” †

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