Work beyond worship
Vanessa Almanza, a first grader at Avon Elementary, had a dysfunctional kidney that was removed in March at Children’s Hospital in Denver.
Collections during the Catholic mass at St. Clare of Assisi and bake sales organized by the church helped raise part of the $40,000 needed for the surgery.
“The church really helped us when we arrived from Mexico years ago,” says Rocio Almanza, 28, of Avon. “Vanessa’s illness made us get even closer to the church.” The Almanzas now go to mass almost every Sunday.
Polly Baca of the Latin American Research and Service Agency, or LARASA, says it’s natural for all human beings to seek a sense of connection with the creator.
“For low-income people, the church is the first connection when they are in need,” Baca says.
Father Jude Geilenkirchen, a Catholic priest in Edwards who provides spiritual ministry to the Hispanics in the valley, knows how bad the needs can be for some.
In the middle of one night this summer he got a phone call. A woman being smuggled in from Mexico to Chicago got sick and died in a local motel.
“They called me because I spoke Spanish and I could talk to her daughter. She kept crying and saying in Spanish, “Mummy, take me with you,'” he remembers.
Geilenkirchen says he is trying to make immigrants aware that they are under a magnifying glass in this country.
“They have to be careful,” he says. “And abide by the law.”
Still, Geilenkirchen says, he feels immigrants don’t get treated fairly in the United States.
“The laws are unjust and some people take advantage of that,” he says. “For example, many employers hire undocumented people and then they don’t pay them, or they pay them very little. In this valley, if they deport all the immigrants who are here illegally, they’ll have to close all the industries..
“The government should improve immigration laws. Otherwise it’s taking advantage of the poor,” he adds.
For Geilenkirchen, equality would be a just wage for services.
“I want to make (immigrants) aware of their dignity as a person,” he says.
Still, Hispanics are so grateful to be in the United States that they never complain when two families sometimes have to live in one mobile home, he says.
“They are happy because they can send money home,” Geilenkirchen says.
Teaching the Gospel
Sister Frances Aldama does work similar to Geilenkirchen’s. She is in charge of the catechism classes, where children from kindergarten to 11th grade get ready for the first communion and confirmation.
The St. Mary’s Catholic Parish recently bought a house in Eagle close to the church for religious education classes in both Spanish and English. About 150 children attend the classes in Eagle on Wednesdays and 200 in Edwards on Thursdays.
“For me. it’s very important that my children continue our faith,” says Eva Ruiz, who brings her 9-year-old daughter to Eagle to prepare for her first communion.
For Ruiz, who has lived in Eagle County for 10 years but still can’t speak English – “I have too much work, and little time to
See Hispanic Churches, page A9