Helping Hispanics keep their faith
EDWARDS – There are two things, said Father Jude Geilenkirchen, that sustain the Hispanic community: their family and their faith.Many Hispanics in Eagle County have left some or all of their family behind in their home countries. For some, that leaves faith as a central component of their lives here.Attendance figures at Spanish-language masses are a testament to that. About 600 people attend weekly Sunday-night services in Edwards led by Geilenkirchen, who is known as Padre Tadeo to his parishioners. About 300 attend Spanish-language Mass on Saturday in Eagle.In comparison, English-language Masses attract, on average, 100 to 200 worshippers, Geilenkirchen said. Two-thirds of St. Clare’s congregation is Hispanic, he said.Masses have become, perhaps, the largest gathering place for the Hispanic community, which constitutes about a quarter of the population of Eagle County, according to Census numbers from last year.Geilenkirchen encourages his parishioners to maintain their faith so they can continue “luchando,” or struggling.”Life is a struggle no matter where you are,” he said.
But Geilenkirchen’s leadership goes beyond the spiritual. From illnesses to immigration laws to housing, Geilenkirchen said he tries to help his church members deal with problems.The church is in a unique position of trust. Hispanics – many of whom don’t speak English – will come to him before they’ll go to their employer or a doctor. On Wednesday, his phone rang, and he was told about a member who has cancer. Geilenkirchen helped set up a special collection.He works with groups like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Mexican consulate to arrange events with the Hispanic community.Many of his parishioners have come to Eagle County to find work that wasn’t available in their home countries.”There’s not opportunity for jobs,” Geilenkirchen said. “If you do get a job, your pay is so minimal it’s just month to month.”Geilenkirchen has been at St. Clare of Assisi since 2002, coming here from Summit County. Before that, he spent several years in Cartagena, Colombia, in one of the poorest neighborhoods there, he said. He built a church in the Nelson Mandela neighborhood.Geilenkirchen is originally from Fort Collins, and spent over a decade at a monastery in Canon City. He has also served at churches in Aurora and Brighton.
There’s an “underlying fear” of immigration rules among the attendees of his Masses, Geilenkirchen said.
“One woman came up to me on Saturday and said, ‘Please give me a blessing. I’m going to the immigration office and they are either going to accept me or reject me,'” he said.The church believes in obeying laws, Geilenkirchen said. At the same time, the church believes in human dignity and people’s need to feed their families.Geilenkirchen said some workers justify their presence in the U.S. with the saying “si Dios quiere” – if God wants me to be here, I’ll be here.”You look at the human situation,” he said.Geilenkirchen – who is admittedly not a fan of anti-illegal-immigration congressman Tom Tancredo – advocated immigration-law reform, perhaps with some type of amnesty for illegal workers who have otherwise followed the laws of this country.”If you throw out everyone who is illegal, you could close down this valley,” he said.Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or email@example.com.