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Washington parish reaches to immigrants, welcomes them both to city and to parish

By Armando Machado
January 21st, 2008
The Catholic Northwest Progress (

BELLINGHAM, Wash. (The Catholic Northwest Progress) - Enio and Blanky Cruz, who are natives of El Salvador, joined Assumption Parish in July after moving to Bellingham from Southern California. They quickly became active church members, just as they were in Los Angeles and their native land.

“We come from a very Catholic family – my brother is a Franciscan priest in El Salvador,” Mrs. Cruz said in an interview last month after a Sunday Spanish Mass at Assumption.

She noted that she and her husband have been very active in Assumption Parish volunteer work, through the parish Hispanic Ministry, including serving in catechism classes for Hispanic children. She and her husband have two sons, ages 14 and 9.

‘I believe in God’

“We always become active – we want to help,” Mrs. Cruz added. “It is very important for the church here in North America to provide a place for Latinos, so that we can practice our faith, worship God with the same traditions that we have in our Latin countries….The same God is everywhere – it is very good that the Church here in the United States has given that opportunity to the Hispanic community.”

The Cruz family lived in Los Angeles for 14 months before moving to Bellingham last summer. Mrs. Cruz said her brother, Father Nelson Granados, has been a Franciscan priest for 18 years – serving in mission projects for the poor in Central America.

“I believe in God – he is the one who protects us and guides us in all our paths,” Mr. Cruz said, in explaining the basis of his longtime involvement with Catholic churches. “We give and we serve from our hearts – and we want to give our children good examples.”

Assumption Church in Bellingham is a prime example of outreach by parishes in the Archdiocese of Seattle to growing immigrant populations.

The Hispanic Ministry at Assumption Church was formed in March 2000, following significant increases in the Hispanic population in the Bellingham area during the 1990s. That year the Spanish Mass was introduced to the parish’s weekend liturgy schedule.

First-generation families

In the years that followed, a number of Hispanic-related activities and events were added, including special December Masses and gatherings focusing on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Led by coordinator Adriana Trujillo the Guadalupe events were organized again in 2007 by members of the Hispanic Ministry at Assumption Parish.

“They’re very supportive of our needs,” Trujillo said of the Seattle Archdiocese leadership, citing Spanish Masses celebrated last year at Assumption by Auxiliary Bishops Eusebio Elizondo and Joseph Tyson. Trujillo joined the parish’s paid staff in 2006 as pastoral assistant for Hispanic Ministry, after serving as volunteer coordinator for six years, from the ministry’s inception.

She noted that before Spanish Mass began at Assumption in 2000, many Bellingham-area Hispanics drove nearly a half hour northeastward to attend Spanish Mass at St. Joseph Parish in Lynden. Spanish Mass there began in 1983.

Trujillo is California-born of Mexican descent, and a mother of four. She noted that the Hispanic Ministry was formed under the direction of then-pastor Father Jay DeFolco, and continued to grow under the guidance of pastor Father Frank Schuster, with help from Father John Francis Bentley. She said most of the Hispanics at Assumption are first-generation young families.

Room for improvement

Father Scott Connolly, who became pastor of Assumption Parish in July 2007, served on the steering committee for the archdiocesan “Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry: From Guests to Hosts,” which was released last spring.

“They are being attentive to the (Hispanic Catholic) needs in the nation, the state and the surrounding areas in particular,” Father Connolly said of archdiocesan leaders’ awareness and efforts. Father Connolly, who celebrates the Spanish Mass says modestly “I would say I’m proficient, not fluent.”

Before being assigned to Assumption, Father Connolly was pastor at Blessed Theresa of Calcutta Parish in Woodinville.

Trujillo and Father Connolly said they believe that Assumption Church -- since the start of the parish Hispanic Ministry seven years ago – has implemented many of the integrative efforts mentioned in the Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry. But they acknowledged that there is room for improvement.

They said the Assumption efforts have included occasional Spanish/English Masses – as well multicultural activities and Mass celebrations. One important future step, Father Connolly said, will be to recruit Hispanics and other ethnic minorities to become members of the parish council so that the council looks like the parish community. Trujillo and Father Connolly said that after Caucasian (mostly mixed-European) and Hispanic, the parish also has a number of long-established members of Vietnamese and Filipino descent.

Father Connolly said the parish has about 1,500 registered households, including an estimated 100 Hispanic families. However, “we probably have about 500 Hispanic families that are not registered,” he added, noting that in the Latino community it is not very common for families to register with parishes, based largely on practices in their native countries.

Support for Hispanic Minsitry

Isaac Govea, archdiocesan coordinator of Hispanic/Latino Services, said Assumption’s plan to recruit Hispanics for parish council service is in keeping with the pastoral plan’s call for more Hispanic participation in church leadership.

Govea noted that Assumption played a consultative role in the document’s preparation. He said proactive promotion of the document has begun in some Eastside parish communities, and it will soon start throughout the archdiocese

Bishop Elizondo, in a telephone interview, said his visit to Assumption “was a great experience,” and he noted he was glad to stay after Mass to discuss related issues with members of the Hispanic Ministry.

He said it has been important for the archdiocese, with guidance from Archbishop Alex J. Brunett, to show support for plans and goals of Hispanic Ministry at all levels.

Bishop Elizondo added that his role in promotion of the Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry will include deanery meetings to explore ways that churches can apply guidelines in the document in practical ways during the daily life of parish communities.

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