If there is any indication of the future of Catholicism in the United States and especially in South Florida, it is the phone message at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church, which gives callers the option of English, Spanish or Portuguese.
This thriving tri-lingual parish west of Delray Beach began as a mission for farmworkers. Now it has a Portuguese-speaking pastor, Horecio Carlos Anklan, and a new priest from Brazil, Adriano Tezone, to minister to its flock. Tezone is assisted at Thursday evening Mass by Deacon Antonio Mares, who gives the readings in Spanish and helps serve Communion.
Maria Cecilia Martinez travels from her home near Jog Road to the church at the far west end of Atlantic Avenue. For Martinez, who has attended the church for about seven years, Mass in Spanish is a better way to worship.
“I don’t understand well English,” she says, after Mares translates a question for her. “I can follow the Mass, but not the sermon.”
Whoever becomes the successor to Pope Benedict XVI must be sensitive to a growing and important constituency of Catholics, those who speak Spanish, Vatican watchers say. The pope retires on Feb. 28. Almost 40 percent of Catholics in the United States are Hispanic.
In the Diocese of Palm Beach, which includes five counties, there are about 353,000 Hispanic Catholics. Of those, 260,000 live in Palm Beach County. Nearly half of all of the diocese’s 53 parishes have Hispanic ministries, with at least one Mass in Spanish each week, often more. Twelve of the 25 parishes who celebrate Mass in Spanish are in Palm Beach County.
The Palm Beach Diocese employs a deacon to serve the needs of Hispanic Catholics. Deacon Jaime Zapata also makes the rounds to say Mass or hear confessions every week at whichever parish needs his services.
Parishioners at Our Lady Queen of Peace hail from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru, to name just a few.
But the parish also holds tri-lingual Masses a few times a year, such as Thanksgiving and Holy Thursday, to bring together all three groups.
“We have three languages and many ethnic groups, but it is one parish,” Anklan said.
Anklan estimates that 70 percent of his parishioners speak Spanish, 20 percent English and 10 percent Portuguese.
Fifty years ago, the parish, the first in the diocese to minister to Spanish speakers, met in a Quonset hut surrounded by farm fields. Now it is a big white church with a tall steeple whose cross can be seen a couple of miles away. Behind the church is a large statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the beloved patron of Mexico and the Americas.
“They built this, they’re proud of this, they feel like family here,” said Anklan. “Many of them came from small towns, where going to church is a big event, so they dress beautifully, they dress their children up, and they hang around after Mass finishes and keep on talking, meeting friends and family.”
The church also has a small clinic, staffed by medical volunteers, that serves the medical and dental needs of those without insurance. In some cases, they are also without documentation, but no questions are asked.
For that group, the parish also offers workshops on immigration, with a visiting attorney.
Immigration reform is a top priority for the U.S. Catholic Church, and for Our Lady Queen of Peace, which educates its parishioners on immigration.
“We see this every day,” Anklan said. “One member of the family is in Mexico, one is here. We have seen so many being deported over the years, people who live in fear, fear of the cops, fear of driving. We want people to feel safe, not to hide away. And our Anglo community, they get educated so that their vote counts,” said Anklan.
In other parts of Palm Beach County, smaller groups of Spanish-speaking Catholics have sought out a church for themselves. A group of Guatemalan Catholics approached the Rev. Richard Florek, pastor of St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Boynton Beach, about a year ago. For many Guatemalans, Spanish is their second language, but it is also possibly the only one they have in common, because there are more than 20 indigenous languages in that small country.
The Boynton Beach group had been traveling to Sacred Heart Church in Lake Worth, but St. Mark’s was within walking distance of their homes. They met with Florek and Zapata, and joined St. Mark’s.
Because Florek and his two other priests do not speak Spanish, Zapata or another Spanish-speaking deacon will do the Bible readings and the sermon in Spanish, while Florek does the body of the Mass in English. The congregation sings hymns in Spanish. Deacons can also conduct marriage preparation classes and Spanish-speaking priests hear confessions.
In October, the Guatemalan group, which includes about 150 adults and children, joined Haitian, Irish- and Polish-American parishioners with a food table at the St. Mark’s international festival.
“They are deeply religious, very spiritual and very faithful,” said Florek. “They asked me, ‘What can we do for you?’ They trimmed our trees and a few people come in and tidy up around the altar and wash windows.”
They also provide scripture readers and altar servers for their Masses. St. Mark’s has four classes for 41 children from the Guatemalan group needing instruction for their first Communion.
On some occasions, such as the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Guatemalan group meets at 5 a.m. for its own prayer service.
Zapata runs an annual meeting of all the parishes with Hispanic ministries to discuss mutual goals. In individual parishes, he may also arrange for parenting education or religious training in Spanish, as well as classes for farmworkers close to where they live and work.
Anklan predicts that one of the new pope’s first trips will be to World Youth Day, to be held in July in Rio de Janeiro.
“That will be a great moment,” said Anklan. “His presence there is important.”
Zapata, like many Catholics, is reluctant to speculate on who will be the next pope, expected to be named before Easter.
But he’s willing to suggest examples of the qualities he thinks will be paramount for the next pope.
“Pope John Paul II conquered the hearts of all the Latin American people, and when Cardinal (Sean) O’Malley was bishop here, I loved to go and listen to him preaching in Spanish. He speaks better Spanish than I do, classical and very elegant. But it is not the words or the accent, it’s the way you communicate with people. It’s a matter of the love and appreciation they can show. That is what we need.”
Because of a reporting error, a story about Hispanic Catholics published in The Post on Sunday, Feb. 17, incorrectly stated that Deacons say Mass and hear confessions. Also, the number of Hispanics in the five-county area of the Palm Beach Diocese is 353,000. The diocese estimates that about 10 percent of that number is Catholic, based on attendance at Masses celebrated in Spanish. The errors appeared on Page 14A.