By S.L. Hansen
(SNR) - Ricardo Izquierdo was recently named director of Hispanic ministry for the Diocese of Lincoln. His new role was created as part of the diocese’s pastoral plan to evangelize Spanish-speaking people in southern Nebraska.
“This plan is five-fold,” Izquierdo said, “a school of formation and leadership, retreats for married couples and youth, an annual Catholic Hispanic conference, greater communication for Spanish-speaking Catholics, and fostering youth formation in catechesis and evangelization.”
Within the boundaries of the diocese, there was a 77% growth in the Latino population between 2000 and 2010. Bolstering Catholic outreach to this still-increasing group is a true priority.
“The diocese is the mother of all Catholics within its boundaries, of any culture, and that means that it should make itself as welcoming as possible to all its children,” Izquierdo reasoned.
Indeed, in the history of the diocese, each bishop has sought to welcome and include people from other nations. In 1921, Bishop Charles O’Reilly traveled to Europe to recruit priests who spoke Czech or German to minister to tens of thousands of immigrants in Nebraska. Less than 20 years ago, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz welcomed several Vietnamese priests and an entire religious order of sisters.
“I see the pastoral plan and my hire as a continuation of that great tradition of serving Catholics of all nationalities in our boundaries,” Izquierdo said.
While Spanish speakers are not new to the Diocese of Lincoln (“We have had Masses in Spanish in our diocese as far back as the 1930s,” Izquierdo pointed out), the change in demographics has presented new challenges.
“There is the basic need for sacraments, materials and programs (for) people from Hispanic countries,” Izquierdo said. “My job has taken me to several of our towns to attempt to determine what our strengths and weaknesses are in those areas and to find ways that I can aid the particular parishes through the central resources of the diocese.”
When he’s not on the road, he is communicating with pastors, associates and lay leaders while he balances numerous other duties. He has created a Spanish Facebook page for the diocese, Spanish resources for the summer Totus Tuus catechical program, and Spanish materials for the annual Charity and Stewardship Appeal.”
Izquierdo’s main focus has been Encuentro, which he described as “a process led by the United States Council of Catholic bishops to help the Bishops discern ways in which the Church can better respond to the presence of Hispanics.”
“So far, this process is being done in seven parishes within our boundaries,” he said. “In the fall there will be a diocesan Encuentro, and in 2018 a regional and a national one.”
Izquierdo is collecting information to enhance the diocesan pastoral plan, which will in turn inform all the dioceses in the United States. He is also charged with coordinating parish efforts, setting up the diocesan Encuentro, and selecting delegates to attend the regional and national Encuentros.
In the long term, he would like to form more Hispanic ministry “hubs” in smaller communities throughout the diocese. He also hopes to encourage more priests and seminarians to focus on Hispanic ministry.
It’s easy to see Izquierdo’s passion for diocesan work.
“I have found that the Church in Lincoln has nourished my faith in both heart and mind and helped my own personal encounter with Christ,” he said. “The diocese has clearly discerned that the challenge of Hispanic Ministry warranted a new position, and my particular qualities seemed to fit the needs of the Church.”
Previously, Izquierdo was a middle school theology teacher at St. Albert School in Council Bluffs, Iowa. He also served as the school’s faculty advisor for the Pro-Life club, March for Life trip, and mission trip to the Dominican Republic, which was offered through the Creighton ILAC center.
As fond as he was of this role, he was glad to accept the opportunities of his new job. That included moving to his hometown with his wife Elizabeth and their newborn baby, Clara Lucía.
He graduated from Pius X High School in Lincoln, earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at Saint Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward; studied theology for two years at Mount Saint Mary in Emmitsburg, Md., and attended graduate school at Omaha’s Creighton University for Secondary Education.
Izquierdo said he keeps an image in his mind inspired by a quote from Saint Pope John Paul II’s ‘Ecclesia in America’: “The Church is a sign of communion because her members, like branches, share the life of Christ.”
“This image of the vine and the branches is helpful in seeing how the cultures in our Diocese get their nourishment and purpose from the same source, Christ Himself, as we navigate through the often mundane and awkward challenges of cultural integration in our parishes,” he said.