LINCOLN (SNR) – On Saturday, July 9, all are invited to the Lancaster County Event Center for ‘Kermes,’ (carnival) the annual family-friendly festival hosted by Lincoln’s Cristo Rey Parish.
The fun starts at noon and lasts until 9 p.m. There will be dancing, music and other entertainment, carnival games for the kids, and different foods to enjoy. The parish is also raffling off a brand new Hyundai Elantra from Sid Dillon.
“It’s been close to 30 years we’ve been doing this now,” said Father Ramon Decaen.
Kermes was started at Sacred Heart Parish in Lincoln, which remains one of the parishes in Lincoln with the highest population of Spanish-speaking parishioners, along with Blessed Sacrament, North American Martyrs, and St. Mary.
In 2003, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz established Cristo Rey Parish as an ethnic parish to serve all the Spanish-speaking Catholics in the area. Kermes was moved to Cristo Rey’s property until four years ago, growing more crowded with each passing year, even when the weather didn’t cooperate.
“It seems like it was always raining in June,” Father Decaen mused. “It made it more difficult for us to plan anything.”
In 2012, the parish decided to move Kermes to the Lancaster County Fairgrounds. With roofs overhead, handicapped accessibility, ample restrooms, and a bigger parking lot, the festival could be enjoyed rain or shine.
In fact, it’s become such a popular event, it will be held at Pavilion One this year, the county fairgrounds’ largest indoor facility.
Father Decaen stressed that Kermes is for everybody, parishioners and non-parishioners, Catholics and non-Catholics, Spanish speakers and people who don’t speak the language at all.
“Everybody should come,” he invited. “This year, it will be in a facility three or four times the size of last year. We should have plenty of space for people to relax with their families.”
Live entertainment will continue throughout the day. Among the acts are Orgullo Latino, a group of children who perform folklorico dance, and the Martachines.
“They are a Catholic group of dancers, and their dancing tells a story,” Father Decaen explained. “They see this as their offering of time, energy, and heart to tell the story of the salvation of souls.”
He said the Martachines usually offer a story of the fight against evil. In previous appearances, they have danced the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the apparition of the Virgin Mary that led to the conversion to many indigenous people in Central and South America.
There will be plenty of food vendors at Kermes, including professional restaurateurs and various parish groups who make delicious homemade meals to enjoy. Father Decaen recommended guests sample three things in particular: gorditas, tortas and churros. Gorditas are pockets made of mesa (cornmeal) and filled with cheese, meat, eggs, or nopales, and other goodies. Father Decaen said he is partial to those stuffed with nopales – cooked cactus leaves. Tortas are grilled or toasted sandwiches, a bun stuffed with meat that has been gloriously spiced with traditional Mexican herbs and peppers. Churros are Mexican-style fritters, often flavored with cinnamon and sugar.
To keep the kids happy, bounce houses are being rented, and the youth of Cristo Rey have been put in charge of the carnival games. Prizes are being stockpiled for the winners.
Of course the big winner will be the person who purchases the $20 raffle ticket and wins the brand-new Hyundai Elantra.
“This is the third or fourth year we’ve raffled off a car,” said Father Decaen.
Previously, the automobile raffle featured a good used car, so this is the first time a winner will drive home something new. However, the parish decided to keep ticket prices to the affordable $20.
“We want everybody to have a chance,” Father Decaen said.
Raffle tickets can be purchased in advance from the church office Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. They are also sold after every Mass at Cristo Rey, which now has five weekend Masses.
Father Decaen said Cristo Rey has more than quadrupled since its founding with 200 or so families. Now there are more than 1,000 families who belong to the parish.
“The two late morning Masses are always overflowing,” he said.
Perhaps in 10 years or so, the parish will be in a position to either build or purchase a bigger facility. In the meantime, the focus is using the funds raised at Kermes to cover operating expenses, support for Catholic schools, and repaying the diocese for the current building.
Father Decaen said that ethnic parishes like Cristo Rey and the two Vietnamese parishes in the area — Immaculate Heart of Mary and St. Andrew Dung-Lac — are important because it is a more efficient way to reach out to immigrants from other parts of the world. There simply aren’t enough diocesan priests who are fluent in Spanish and Vietnamese to serve in all the parishes that have those populations in the pews.
As it is, he and his assistant, Father Ryan Kaup, are “burning the candle at both ends.”
Not that they mind.
“History has shown that if we don’t meet people where they are at, we’ll lose them,” Father Deacon said. “The Catholic faith has been lost by many immigrants because the Church has not been quick enough to respond to their needs, and we don’t want to repeat history.”
He hopes all will support Cristo Rey by coming to Kermes on July 9. Entrance fees are $1 per person for those ages 12 and up, free for younger kids. Game tickets can be purchased on site; bring cash to purchase food.
Story by S.L. Hansen