As we turn our eyes to the Holy Family this weekend, I want to take a moment to share what I’ve learned about focusing on the whole family in Hispanic Ministry.
If you are already ministering to Hispanic immigrants, you can probably relate to a situation like this: You ask some of your main leaders to stay after mass to do some planning together and next thing you know the meeting room is filled with the entire family – children, cousins and maybe a grandma. Or maybe you decide to offer a group marriage preparation class or retreat in Spanish like you do for English-speaking couples and next thing you know couples show up with three or four kids each! Like my husband says referring to Hispanic Ministry events: “Here comes everyone!”
When I first started in Hispanic ministry this would basically drive me crazy! I come from a French-Canadian and Irish background (European American) and that’s just not how we do things! But luckily, by then I had traveled extensively in Latin America and spent a year in Ecuador as a volunteer, so I had learned how family-centric Hispanic cultures are. Most cultures throughout Latin America fall more on the collective rather than individualistic side of the spectrum. This is especially true with the main immigrant community I currently serve which belongs to indigenous culture groups from rural Mexico and Guatemala. As I’m sure you can guess the prevailing culture in the U.S. is more on the individualistic side. In the prevailing culture children are encouraged to be independent and it’s common practice for parents to get a babysitter for any meetings or other events geared toward adults. In most Hispanic cultures, however, it is much more common for the entire family to attend together, whether the event is geared toward adults or not. If parents look for a babysitter it will usually be with extended family, which for many immigrant families in the U.S., aren’t living near them. These are important things to remember when ministering with a collective culture.
When we started looking for ways to focus on the whole family, ministry started to go better. For example, now our diocesan marriage preparation retreats in Spanish always include free child care which has made them go a lot more smoothly! In our Religious Education classes for Kindergarten to Sixth grade we frequently have older siblings dropping off and picking up. So, we started having them set up the snack and prepare drinks and serve as classroom helpers with the younger groups. Whenever we have an event we always know there will be children present so we set up a kid’s table with activities or arrange for child care on the premises. Or better yet we kill two birds with one stone and have a program for the children at the same time.
A recent example is a prayer day we offered prior to First Communion. It started after Mass when the majority were already present and of course began with a meal like any successful Hispanic ministry activity. Then we had families sit together and started an activity for the smaller children to work on. While their parents supervised we had presentations for the older youth and adults on the importance of the Eucharist. Then we moved into the church for a Eucharistic Holy Hour where we started out explaining Jesus’ presence in very simple terms all could understand. We had confessions available throughout the entire event. By offering simultaneous activities for different age groups and engaging all ages during the larger group events we were able to focus on the entire family. Overall it was a very successful event which we look forward to improving upon each year.
May our celebration of the Feast of the Holy Family remind us of the importance of focusing on the whole family in Hispanic ministry – parents, youth, children, cousins and grandma!
What experience have you had in ministering to the whole family? Share your best practices in the comments section!