Future Full of Hope

| April 25, 2012 | 0 Comments

Parish leadership program brings together people from diverse backgrounds, cultures

Gerardo Escamilla and other members of Ascension’s Future Full of Hope group listen to a presentation on liturgy at the parish April 19. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you — oracle of the LORD — plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.” — Jeremiah 29:11

Lois Fulton is a bridge-builder, or in Spanish “gente puente,” as they’re called at Ascension in north Minneapolis.

A fluent Spanish-speaker who has lived in Guatemala, she is especially suited to bring together people from Ascension’s diverse community of parishioners — Latinos, Africans, people of European descent, long-time members and new members like herself who migrated to the parish after nearby St. Philip merged with Ascension last year.

Fulton, 30, is one of about 20 Ascension parishioners taking part in a new leadership program called Future Full of Hope, designed to strengthen community by encouraging all members to share their gifts with the parish.

Last Thursday, Fulton gathered with other parishioners of different ages and ethnicities to share a meal, pray together and listen to a talk on liturgy.

A few months ago, most of the people in that room were strangers. Now, through their shared experiences in the program, they see each other as friends.

All parishioners were invited to join the group, which began meeting twice a month last October for spiritual, theological and personal formation. At each gathering, participants listened to talks and participated in discussions on topics such as intercultural communication, roots of poverty, Catholic social teaching, servant leadership and Vatican II. The final gathering will be in May.

“With the merger with St. Philip’s and our own multiethnic community, we wanted to gather individuals who would have kind of a basic common adult formation foundation,” said pastoral associate Anne Attea, “and from there look at how do we create more varied leadership and ownership at the parish.”

An immigrant parish

Diversity at Ascension is nothing new. The parish has been home to many different immigrant groups over the years.

“We have been working at creating intercultural communication probably Ascension’s whole 110-year history, being an immigrant parish,” Attea said, “but more intensively I’d say the past 10 to 15 years with the establishment of the weekly Spanish Mass and the history of having an African-American congregation as well as Irish and German root folks as well as incoming Africans.”

After welcoming people from St. Philip last June, Ascension became even more diverse, with an influx of Catholics of Polish and African descent.

While the changing faces at Ascension reflect north Minneapolis’ diversity, it is language, rather than ethnicity, that has presented the greatest challenge to creating a unified community at Ascension, Attea said.

Today, Latinos — mostly from Mexico, but also from other countries — make up the majority at the parish. Many of them speak only Spanish or limited English.

To bring the two language communities together, the parish offers bilingual Masses several times a year and provides interpreters at parish events.

Ascension’s efforts at creating an intercultural parish seem to be paying off, Attea has noticed.

“We have seen a much greater participation of folks from all our different ethnic groups coming together to put on events,” she said. “We’ve always had good participation, but now in terms of the leadership and the organization and the execution, we’re finding more and more people coming forth and working together across the Mass lines.”

Attea also has seen Future Full of Hope participants collaborating and socializing together outside of the group.

“I think the process of people sharing their experiences has allowed people to get to know one another more deeply, which is what we were hoping for,” she said.

The high level of discussion following last week’s liturgy talk, during which participants drew on knowledge gained from previous talks, proves that the program’s other goal — to form competent leaders — also has been achieved.

Attea has invited graduates of the program to take on leadership roles in the parish’s stewardship committee, social justice ministry or in any ministry they feel they can contribute.

Expert advice on uniting diverse communitiesAnne Attea, pastoral associate at Ascension, offered these tips that have proven successful at the north Minneapolis parish.

  • “My greatest piece of advice would be to not be afraid to try some new things. You will evolve into knowing what works for your community. But if you never try, you never move beyond people’s comfort zone.”
  • “Actions speak louder than words. If you’re going to have a parish gathering, what can you do in terms of the ambience or the environment to welcome people of different ethnicities and cultures?”
  • “Pay attention to what the needs might be. If you’re doing an event and you have a worship aid, is there a way to accommodate both languages?” For example, if a Mass reading is proclaimed in Spanish, print the words in English so everyone can follow along.
  • Celebrate bilingual Masses several times a year.
  • Invite all parishioners to participate in and take leadership of parish events.
  • Try using multilingual music at Mass.
  • Discuss what it means to be catholic in the universal sense. “That means that we do our best to include everyone and try new things.”

For more information or ideas, contact Anne Attea at (612) 529-9684 or aattea@ascensionmpls.org.

Fostering understanding

Future Full of Hope participant Linda Goynes, 59, has been Catholic for just three years, but already she is involved in several ministries at the parish, including helping with the food shelf, preparing dinner for the Future Full of Hope gatherings, and tending the peace garden.

Besides making her a better leader, Goynes said, the group has helped her to forge new friendships at the parish.

Before joining the group, Goynes said, she hadn’t interacted much with Latinos. Now she counts several Latinos, whom she invited to help with the peace garden, among her friends.

Gerardo Escamilla, 39, said he joined Future Full of Hope to connect more with the parish’s English-speaking community.

He said he would like to help start a religious education/faith formation program for both English-speakers and Spanish-speakers after he completes the program.

“Sharing my time with people from other countries and getting along with those people means a lot for me and my family,” said Escamilla, who is from Mexico. “I learned that people might do things differently, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong.”

Fulton, the former St. Philip parishioner who sees herself as a bridge-builder, said the program has helped her feel more a part of the Ascension community.

One of her favorite moments occurred when she shared photos she took in Guatemala with another group member who is from that country. He used the photos to teach others about his culture, Fulton said. “I just remember that being a time when we could all celebrate our connection through different experiences.”

Part of being a bridge-builder is extending personal invitations to parishioners who might feel outside of the fold, Fulton said.

“Hopefully we can all kind of hold each other together a little bit more to feel like we’re connected.”


 

 

“I learned that people might do things differently, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong.”
Gerardo Escamilla
Parishioner for 11 years

 

 

 

“My husband and I both speak Spanish and initially found Ascension because there was a Spanish Mass. . . . But we didn’t really meet anyone until I was in the Future Full of Hope program. Now we have a couple of friends that we’ve met through that, and when we go to activities that are sponsored by the Spanish-speaking community, we know a friendly face. . . .”
Lois Fulton
Parishioner for one year

 

“A presenter showed a chart of how people are groomed into kind of a certain milieu and a certain way of speaking and a certain way of doing things that really relate to economic class. I had always thought about social class, but I hadn’t looked at it from that point of view. . . .”
Anne Attea
Pastoral associate

 

“I didn’t understand Hispanics very well. We had topics on different races, and I took away that . . . I have to learn how to understand their culture just as much as they have to learn to understand my culture. And I learned that they have kind hearts. . . .”
Linda Goynes
Parishioner for three years

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