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Annual Catholic Appeal helps Hispanic Ministry’s religious ed and social service work

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Special to The Dialog

The sound of children singing in Spanish filled the living room of a house in Ocean City, Md., area.

“I am the church, you are the church. We are the church of God. Jesus calls us living stones. So let’s build the church of God,” were the English lyrics of their song.

“Maybe for your first Communion you can sing that song for the whole community,” Sister Agnes Oman, associate director of Hispanic Ministry, told the children who are preparing to receive the sacrament in May.

Sister Agnes Oman, show teaching a religious education class, is associate director of the diocese's Hispanic Ministry office. The work of the office is helped each year by the Annual Catholic Appeal. (The Dialog/www.DonBlakePhotography.com)

The class illustrates one way the diocese’s Hispanic Ministry helps fulfill the song’s goal to “build the church of God.”

The children, who will receive their first Communion at either Our Lady of Guadalupe in Roxana or at St. Ann’s in Bethany Beach, normally would attend classes at St. Ann’s. That posed a hardship for their parents. They asked Sister Agnes if she could instruct their children in the home of one child’s family, and the class was formed in cooperation with parish officials.

Sister Agnes’ work is aided by the Annual Catholic Appeal, which helps fund Hispanic Ministry and more than 30 other ministries in Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Those ministries provide medical, emotional, spiritual, educational and financial assistance.

This year’s goal for the Annual Catholic Appeal is $4,220,300. The theme is “Come, Follow Me,” taken from Matthew’s Gospel, 19:21. Commitment Weekend, when Catholics are asked to pledge to the campaign, will be April 21-22.

The classes led by Sister Agnes illustrate only one way Hispanic Ministry works to serve the Spanish-speaking and their descendants throughout the diocese. The ministry produces a magazine published every three months and coordinates with 19 parishes that operate as regional Hispanic Ministry Centers, said Brother Chris Posch, a Franciscan priest who directs Hispanic Ministry.

School of Evangelization

The ministry developed a school of evangelization that provides spiritual and theological formation and community building, social action and leadership training.

This year’s courses focus on marriage and family life. Instructors have come from within the diocese and from the Northeast Hispanic Catholic Center in New York.

“Over 1,000 people have participated, taking at least one course,” Brother Chris said, and five women received certification in pastoral leadership last year. One, Maria Ester Zamora of St. Ann-Our Lady of Guadalupe, said through her daughter’s translation, that she has always been active in the church, but “my courses made me want to get more involved. They taught me more about my faith,” something she now shares with others.

Sister Agnes said Zamora’s volunteer efforts — preparing couples for marriage, helping parents enroll their children in religious education classes, scheduling family stops for an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the days leading up to the Dec. 12 feast day, and organizing the altar for the Nov. 2 Day of the Dead — are examples of the impact the school of evangelization has had, and how the ministry has changed over the past decade.

“To me, one of the biggest changes is to see how some of the people who have taken the courses are taking responsibility in their own parishes,” Sister Agnes said.

Only half-jokingly, she said Zamora and other Hispanic laity may push her out of a job.

“That’s my dream, to work myself out of a job” by working with Hispanics and parishes to incorporate Hispanic ministry into daily parish life and encouraging Hispanics to take active roles in their parishes. “I feel like at Our Lady of Guadalupe we are doing a fairly good job of that, and we are getting there [at St. Elizabeth] in Westover,” Md., the communities where she is most involved.

She also assists parish Hispanic ministry programs and leads workshops and teaches courses if requested.

Pastoral work

Much of Sister Agnes’ effort is pastoral, “visiting people in their homes. That’s really where you learn about their life, what their needs are.” The husband of a woman whom she recently visited is away from home for work all week. “She also has a child who is making first Communion but she cannot drive, so we worked out a program at home for the mother and child.”

Sister Agnes accompanied a Salisbury woman, who “kind of understands but doesn’t know enough English to ask questions,” to a doctor’s appointment.

Every day brings different challenges. She recalled one day when she went from her home in Selbyville, Del., to Maryland, where she provided a baptismal class for a woman who was going to be a godmother in Florida. The woman could not attend regularly scheduled classes at nearby parishes because of her work schedule.

Later, Sister Agnes drove to Salisbury, where she visited three different families, learning their needs and desires and ways the church could assist them. That evening she traveled across the peninsula to Easton for a briefing on the Maryland Dream Act, which would provide the opportunity for in-state tuition to Maryland high school graduates who, as children, were brought into the United States without proper documentation and who grew up here.

Some days Sister Agnes thinks she will be able to catch up on paperwork and emails until the phone rings. It could be a call from a family about someone who has been arrested. She will go to the Wicomico and Worcester county jails in Maryland to visit the prisoner and to assist as she can.

During the summer she regularly visits families at a camp for migrant farmworkers near Westover.

Sister Agnes’ journey to the Diocese of Wilmington took her from her native Ireland, where she joined the Brigidine Sisters, to the congregation’s house in San Antonio, Texas. She taught school and was a director of religious education in San Antonio for almost 20 years, during which she noticed “an influx of new Mexican immigrants.” That encouraged her to learn Spanish, which led to 11 years of ministry in the state of Vera Cruz, Mexico.

Almost 11 years ago she noticed an ad for someone to join the Hispanic Ministry team in the Diocese of Wilmington; not long afterward, she arrived here.

The families of 12 children preparing for first Communion during home lessons in Ocean City are glad Sister Agnes responded to that ad. Parents crowd into the kitchen and watch, through a breakfast bar, as Sister Agnes teaches their children about the faith.

More than required

Natalia Scarlavai, whose daughter Heather is in the class, said the parents realize Sister Agnes goes further than required in working with them. Even after the special class was organized, Sister Agnes agreed to start classes at 6 p.m. rather than 5 after parents said they had trouble getting their children to class on time.

“We appreciate her coming here,” Scarlavai said.

Sister Agnes does not mind helping the Scarlavais and the other families whose children are preparing for first Communion. By helping the children and their parents learn more about the faith, she figures, they may become more involved in their parishes – helping “build the church of God.”

As they do, they might help Sister Agnes realize her goal to work herself out of a job.