I was born in Arlington, Virginia and my family is from El Salvador. I grew up being bi-cultural, speaking Spanish to communicate with my immediate family and English to communicate with everyone else. I remember while growing up that my peers at school would be surprised when I would speak Spanish because they thought I didn’t know the language. Going to church, my family would always go to Mass or Eucharistic Adoration in Spanish. I almost had two different lives: one was in Spanish and the other was in English. Each language incorporated different things.
During the summer I was fifteen, I attended my first teen retreat by Tira La Red (Throw the Net), where I had my first encounter with God. I remember that most talks were in English and everything that came down to praying was in Spanish. This made me feel comfortable and that I truly fit in since I and the other participants only knew our prayers in Spanish. I enjoyed attending the bilingual retreat; it made me feel like I belonged. I left this retreat and was inspired to grow as a Catholic—my religion and faith became a very big part of my life.
While attending public school, I observed that religion was rarely discussed unless Christianity came up in history class. Being Catholic and being able to identify as Catholic was important to me, so most of my high school friends knew about my devotion to the faith. Many of them did not understand why I was so devoted but respected that I was, and that inspired them to want to know more about my faith. Many times, we did not see eye to eye on different Catholic teachings or perspectives, but my friends were able to see past that and we maintained a deep friendship regardless of our beliefs. I would go to my youth group at my parish and attend Tira La Red events during the weekends. My weekends were consumed by Mass and church events which left me feeling fulfilled.
Once I graduated high school, I wanted to attend a Catholic college, which led me to attend The Catholic University of America. I was excited to go to a school where I would continue to grow in my faith and learn more about it while also majoring in marketing (I always knew I wanted to specialize in something in business). Once at Catholic University, I realized that my experience of bicultural Catholicism was not the reality for everyone else. I realized that the way I practiced and experienced the Catholic faith would be different in college. There were no bilingual events, which was challenging at the beginning. Eventually I realized that this challenge was an eye opener for me to stop seeing my faith only in terms of what language was being used to discuss it. Whether it was in Spanish, English, or both, it’s all my same faith.
Many wonderful things came from attending Catholic University. I had the opportunity to make friends who also practiced my faith, was able to attend Mass, and share deep conversations that were important and enriching. During orientation week, I remember attending my first English Mass. It was all new to me, but I began to see my faith in a different way and also got to appreciate my unique perspective. I learned that no matter what language we speak or culture we come from, we find God when we seek him in whatever language we’re comfortable with. This diversity is what strengthens and enriches the Catholic faith.
After working for two years at the Catholic Apostolate Center, I have not only celebrated and learned more about my faith in English, but have also had the opportunity to do things that involve being bicultural. I have been able to expand my horizons and see my faith in so many different wonderful ways that I was blind to before.
I have come to see that religion does not need to be practiced in Spanish or have both languages in it in order to represent my faith. Before attending The Catholic University of America, I did not understand and value the Catholic faith for what it is and for the diversity that it brings. The Word of God is for all, not just for one culture or ethnicity. Having attended a Catholic college and now working for a Catholic organization, I have learned how unique it is that I get to know both English and Spanish and how I can enjoy practicing my faith in either language or both in my everyday life. I have also accepted that no matter what language I choose or prefer to speak, I am one and so is my faith.
A little more than three years ago, I was asked to be the coordinator of my parish’s youth group. I had just begun college and taking on such a big responsibility seemed terrifying - it felt like I was trying to climb a very tall mountain and the top seemed impossible to reach. As I started this new position, I noticed that my group lacked organization, teen attendance, and the presence of trust because they did not know me as their leader.
Working to create a semblance of routine and structure to use every Friday afternoon was probably the easiest thing to do, but attendance and building trust would need more work. We had about 4 teens that were committed to attending youth group every Friday. I asked myself, “How am I going to get more teens to attend? Where do I find them?” Another important question I asked was, “What will make them want to come back next Friday?” So, I got to work and created social media accounts under the group’s name to get the word out about our meetings. I spoke to the prayer group for adults that would meet at the same time and asked them to bring their teens to our group instead of leaving them at home. With a lot of prayer and thought, I realized that what these teens were lacking was an encounter with Jesus, so I would focus my talks on God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I also focused on doing group prayers where the teens had the opportunity to speak to God. As stated in Living as Missionary Disciples, “An encounter with the Lord brings about a profound transformation in all who do not close themselves off from him” (LMD 11). I witnessed this firsthand. Many teens started to come and seemed hungry to know more about God.
Then came the third task: building trust. I noticed that these teens desperately needed someone to trust and wanted to be heard. Many times, we think that a young person has the perfect life. Most of these teens’ parents provide everything for them, including shelter, food, and clothing. It’s easy to think that all they do is go to school during the day and help around the house with a few chores. In reality, this isn’t true. I’ve come to learn that many of these teens experience peer pressure at school, have problems at home, and are constantly being bombarded with impossible standards on social media.
The teens needed someone to walk next to them and listen to them. As Living as Missionary Disciples states, “The response to this encounter with Christ needs accompaniment” (LMD 14). The teens needed someone that would not judge them but instead be there for them. They needed to be able to be themselves and feel accepted the way they are despite their past or where they are now. As Living as Missionary Disciples also says, “We are not called to make judgements about others.” (LMD 15) Three years later, I have finished this pastoral ministry journey. I learned so much from the teens, such as the importance of having a personal encounter with God and the importance of accompanying the members of your ministry.
Some tips I have for a pastoral minister include valuing the importance of constant prayer and regularly asking the Holy Spirit to come upon the ministry and give a vision of where to go and where to take the ministry. It’s also important to be able to recognize the needs of your community or within the demographic with which you are working and to be able to address those needs. There should also be a balance of “church work” and a healthy personal life. I personally lacked this balance and burned out, which led me to give so much and not take the time to give back to myself. Taking these measures will prevent the minister from burning out and help him or her be able to give more in the long run.
For more tips on self-care visit our Self-Care for Healthy Ministry resource page.