Story by Tess Wahlmeier
LINCOLN (SNR) – On March 19 Bishop James Conley approved a pastoral plan for Hispanic ministry in the Diocese of Lincoln: “El Camino, la Verdad, y la Vida–The Way, the Truth and the Life.”
For the past two years, the priests, religious, and laity of the Hispanic community have been working to build a Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Lincoln. This Pastoral Plan will guide pastors, priests, and leaders across the diocese to better serve Hispanic communities. The projects of the pastoral plan were funded by the Joy of the Gospel capital campaign.
There are currently 11 parishes in the Diocese of Lincoln which celebrate Mass in Spanish on a regular basis, reaching from Nebraska City on the east side of the state all the way to Imperial and Wallace on the west. Members of these parishes all across the diocese assisted Bishop Conley and Father Ramon Decaen, director of Hispanic ministry, in creating and revising the Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry.
“We began a two-year process of evaluating our situation – seeing what we’ve done, where we’ve come from, our strengths, our weaknesses – and began to put forward a pastoral plan,” said Father Decaen.
Father Decaen said the process of writing and revising the Pastoral Plan was long, but fruitful. Collaboration between the laity, priests, religious and Bishop Conley, went into making the plan efficient and effective. Meetings were held in different communities throughout the diocese, in which laity gave input and helped with revisions of the pastoral plan using the ver-juzgar-actuar process (see-analyze-act). As stated in the Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry, “Ver” identifies the perception, needs, and aspirations of the lay faithful. “Juzgar” analyzes that reality in light of Scripture and Tradition. “Actuar” transforms the results of “juzgar” into corresponding action.
“Ultimately, the laity as well as the bishop were in agreement that we needed to put together this pastoral plan,” Father Decaen said. “We’re finding that we’re behind the ball, in a sense, that we need to address some of these challenges that we’re faced with, with not only making sure that we have priests who speak Spanish, but also finding new ways to evangelize.”
As part of the Actuar process, the pastoral plan has five goals which will be implemented throughout the diocese.
The first goal is the creation of a school of formation and leadership for the Hispanic people. This school would travel to regional areas and offer courses and classes for Hispanics to not only grow in their own faith, but also to share what they learn with their parishes, as well.
“We want to help them understand their role as lay leaders of the Church, to understand how they collaborate with their pastor, priests, and sisters to effectively share the good news with the whole world,” Father Decaen said.
He said that some content will be in the form of video and audio, but most will take place in person.
“We need to be more personal,” Father Decaen said. “The Hispanic people are very personal, too.”
The second goal is the creation of retreats for married couples and youth. At this point, the diocese does not offer many retreats in Spanish, and those that are offered are often organized by individuals within the parish. The pastoral plan looks to create more diocesan-wide retreats, especially for couples.
The third goal is to have an annual Catholic Hispanic Conference within the diocese. The conference will incorporate a greater understanding of what it means to be a Catholic, and will also be a place of fellowship and community.
“It’s an evangelization conference building stronger Catholics, stronger families, stronger parents, and stronger marriages,” Father Decaen said.
The fourth goal is greater communication for the Spanish-speaking Catholics.
“Language and culture is a challenge at times, to reach the Spanish-speaking people and for the Spanish-speaking people to reach the English-speaking people,” Father Decaen said. “We have found, over the history of the Church, that if we don’t adapt to their language and their culture, then we lose them.”
Improving communication means creating and distributing bilingual information, using both technology (web sites, apps, Facebook, etc.) and traditional means of communication (newsletters, letters, etc.) A network will also be established in order to foster communication with diocesan offices.
The fifth and final goal is fostering greater formation of the youth, a goal that Bishop Conley and all within Hispanic ministry are emphatic about.
Father Decaen said, “Although it’s the last one, it’s very, very important – reaching our youth, fostering greater formation of youth through catechesis and evangelization.”
The pastoral plan states, “While some effort has been made, a stronger collaborative effort to reach out to our Hispanics by the Catholic schools and parishes is needed.”
Greater efforts include establishing a network to help Catholic school administrators and teachers better serve Hispanic families, better training of teachers in multicultural environments, engaging parents in the education process and the Catholic school community, and a greater effort to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
Now that the pastoral plan has been written and formally accepted by Bishop Conley, the diocese begins the five-year process of implementation.
Many parishes have already started implementing different facets of the pastoral plan. Cristo Rey Parish in Lincoln is planning to bring in national speakers for the Hispanic Conference this fall, and is also offering partial scholarships for youth to participate in diocesan summer camps, such as Campin' with the Marians, Totus Tuus, and the Diocesan Canoe Trip.
“We really want to get our kids involved, because things like that are not only fun but they’re tremendous evangelizing tools,” Father Decaen said, “so it’s all tied in with our effort to reach out to our young people.”
Bishop Conley expressed that “the whole Church can learn from the vitality of the Hispanic Catholic community.”
“I think the pastoral plan will serve us all, on the way to Jesus Christ,” he said.