Finding a familiar faith
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on spiritually ministering to the Hispanic community in Eagle County. The second will appear Tuesday.
Ten years ago, Maria Socorro Marquez’s grandson came with her to the valley from Juarez, Mexico. One Wednesday late this October, he was about to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and possibly be deported back to a country where he no longer had any family.
Maria Socorro Marquez, however, didn’t sit alone in Courtroom One at the Eagle County Justice Center waiting to hear the fate of her 19-year-old grandson, Jose Marquez.
Though he was sick with a bad cold, Father Jude Geilenkirchen, a Catholic priest in the valley who provides spiritual ministry to the Hispanics, came along to support her.
They were late for the hearing, which started early, and missed the details of Jose’s guilty plea to possession of drugs.
“Can he stay here?” Geilenkirchen asked defense attorney Ken Barker.
“It’s out of our hands,” Barker replied. “It’s up to the federal government now. To the immigration authorities.”
“But he has no family back there … and he has a girlfriend here,” Geilenkirchen said, concerned.
Maria Socorro Marquez, 60, of Avon feared her grandson’s fate would be similar to that of many illegal immigrants who are caught breaking the law in the United States: deportation. Geilenkirchen calls it exportation.
“I can empathize with them,” he said after the hearing. “Socorro was truly concerned about him. I came today because I feel they take advantage of the poor in the court system.”
Marquez says Geilenkirchen, 66, a Benedictan brother who speaks English and Spanish, defends the Hispanics when they have problems.
“He is with us in presence and that is very important to us Hispanics,” she says.
The church plays a critical role in the lives of immigrants in this country, both for spiritual and material needs, says Polly Baca of the Latin American Research and Service Agency, or LARASA.
“They find assistance when they are in need of shelter and food or clothing,” Baca says. “Historically, churches of all faiths have always played a role in helping the immigrants to make the transition.”
Every weekend, the growing population of Hispanics – which now comprises 23 percent of the population of Eagle County – converges at several churches to hear mass in Spanish.
On Sundays, more than 700 people jam the gym at the St. Clare of Assisi school to hear Catholic mass in Spanish. Sometimes, people have to stand in the lobby of the Catholic school that serves as church on Sundays.
Another 300 people from Eagle, Gypsum and Dotsero, fill St. Mary’s Church in Eagle on Saturdays. And several dozens congregate at Gracious Savior Lutheran Church in Edwards, where Pastor Omar Gonzalez preaches on Sunday.
“Two-thirds of the congregation in St. Clare’s are from the Hispanic community,” Geilenkirchen says.
In the past years, Roman Catholic churches have been adding multiple masses in Spanish across northern Colorado, Baca says.
“Our faith is extremely important, particularly for the immigrant community and that has been demonstrated by the enormous response to all churches in Colorado,” she says.
For example, in Greeley, the church of Our Lady of Peace is raising money to expand the church because there isn’t enough space, she says.
“That is happening all over to churches,” Baca says.
Aside from mass, the church provides other spiritual services: communion of faith, baptism, confirmation and marriage.
“Every part of your life is connected to the church,” Baca says.
Geilenkirchen said ministering sometimes extends to the middle of the night. One morning at about 3 a.m., a pregnant 16-year-old called him to talk about her situation. Other times, he has helped people financially with their rents.
“I’ve helped them, but I want them to improve their situation,” he says.
When police arrested her grandson, Socorro Marquez talked to Geilenkirchen.
“He asked if he could help with anything,” Marquez says. “If he goes away, we would feel lost. We feel very supported by him.”
Tom Ziemann of Catholic Charities, which provides social services to people in need, said providing spiritual ministry in people’s native language is very important.
“Faith is a very personal thing,” Ziemann says. “If you’re struggling to understand the language, it’s hard to concentrate on the meaning. Whatever makes people more comfortable.”
Other Protestant services have sprung up with services in Spanish as a result of growth in the Hispanic community.
Like the “Iglesia Cristiana Roca de Salvacion” (Chrisitan Church of the Rock of Salvation), a Protestant church that offers mass on Sundays at the Gracious Savior Lutheran Church in Edwards. There, Gonzalez preaches in Spanish to a congregation of 70.
“All our people are from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras,” Gonzalez says. “But I want to emphasize: It’s not what we do for them, but what God does for them.”
When immigrants come to a new land, no matter where they come from, they have struggles, Ziemann says.
“But we believe that faith in God will help us through any troubles,” he says. “It’s very important to have faith in any transition.”
Ziemann says Hispanics and Anglos have the same core beliefs, but sometimes demonstrate them in different ways.
“It’s a cultural thing,” he says. “Like Mexicans have the Lady of Guadalupe and the Anglos have the Virgin Mary.”
Hispanics are more attached to their faith than Anglos, says Geilenkirchen, who worked in Colombia for five years.
“You can’t be church if you don’t have the poor with you,” Geilenkirchen says. “The poor realize that anything they receive, it’s a gift from God. The affluent see it in another way. They say, “If I don’t have something, I can buy it.'”
Although he sees a lot of people suffering in the valley, Geilenkirchen says many residents are often ingenious in the way they work out their problems.
“There are poor people here, but they are able to roll with the punches,” he says.
In the end, all he is trying to do is fulfill the Gospel, Geilenkirchen says.
“I don’t know if I’m in tune with both cultures,” he says, “but I know the Hispanics need advocates.”
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mass in Spanish
St. Mary’s – 7 p.m. Saturday; 215 Capitol St., Eagle
St. Clare of Assisi – 7 p.m. Sunday; U.S. Highway 6 at Squaw Creek Road, Edwards.
Iglesia Cristiana Roca de Salvacion service at the Gracious Savior Lutheran Church – 7 p.m. Sunday; 33520 Highway 6, Edwards.