New initiative seeks to improve care to Hispanic Catholics in South Jersey

Bishop Joseph Galante has appointed Reverend Kenneth Hallahan and Reverend Rico Duclé to collaborate on a full-time basis with the parish communities located along the Black Horse Pike — from Fairview in Camden to Sicklerville — to identify and address the needs of growing numbers of Hispanic Catholics in the area.

The appointments were effective December 1.

“As more and more Catholic families from the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America have found employment and settled over an extensive area over two counties and twelve parishes, a fuller, more comprehensive approach is now necessary to accomplish effective outreach and to ensure that we are meeting their actual needs,” said Sr. Kathleen Brown, diocesan director of Hispanic Ministry.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, from 1990 to 2007, the Hispanic population in South Jersey increased by 98 percent, while total population grew just 11 percent (see chart at right by county).

Father Hallahan, who has been pastor of St. Joan of Arc in Camden, will reside in the rectory at St. Agnes, Blackwood. Father Rico Duclé, who is beginning ministry in the diocese after serving a large Hispanic parish in the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, will reside in the rectory at St. Joan of Arc in Camden.

While no new Hispanic Centers or parishes are being formed from the initiative, Fathers Hallahan and Duclé will serve as liaisons to the pastors of the parishes along the Pike, including the municipalities of Woodlynne, Audubon, Mount Ephraim, Bellmawr, Gloucester City, Barrington, Runnemede, Blackwood, Turnersville, Sicklerville and the Fairview neighborhood of Camden.

Currently, Hispanic Catholics have had to travel long distances to celebrate liturgy and participate in the sacramental life of a faith community sensitive to their own language and culture.

“One couple and their three children, who now live in Barrington, arrived two years ago from Mexico, where they were active members of their parish. They are still struggling to learn English. Currently, if they want to attend Mass in Spanish on Sunday, their closest Church is St. Joan of Arc in Fairview. They have no car, so that requires an eight block walk to Route 168 and, then, waiting for a bus to take them into Fairview,” said Sr. Kathleen.

“I know also of two brothers share an apartment with three other young men in Blackwood. All five work for the same landscaping business. They left their family in Guatemala to work to help their parents provide for their younger brothers and sisters. For them, the closest Mass in Spanish is celebrated at St. Bridget Parish in Glassboro. Occasionally they can convince one of their friends with a car to drive them the 25 minute ride to attend weekend Mass.”

“These are not isolated examples, but can be multiplied many times over. We know the Hispanic people are here. We know that they have real needs that aren’t yet being fully met. This innovative approach is a cause for great hope in the diocese because it will address this need,” she added.

Some of the key features of the new outreach ministry to Hispanic families residing in these Black Horse Pike communities will be locating and gathering Catholic Hispanic families through personal visits to businesses, and public areas where they visit and congregate; gathering to pray where there are concentrations of families all along the Pike; over time and in accord with the development of small neighborhood Hispanic faith communities, further steps will be taken to welcome the Hispanic families into the parishes where they reside.

“Outreach is essential,” said Father Ken Hallahan. “Yet, a key aspect of outreach is not to impose a ‘program,’ or to simply provide Mass in their language, but to be attentive to their specific needs. We must ask what they did at home, how they worshipped, what devotions were important to them, and how they would like to experience parish life here.”

Father Hallahan and Father Duclé also will collaborate with the parish pastors to consider the celebration of an occasional, possibly monthly Mass in Spanish in the various cooperating parishes, where all parishioners will be welcome. They also might invite Hispanic choirs occasionally to join the English speaking community’s Mass to share in song and cultural devotions. The specific elements of the outreach will be coordinated with each pastor.

One example of this approach will be the celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Sicklerville on December 12 beginning at 6:30 p.m.

“The National Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry approved by the United States Bishops’ Conference two decades ago anticipated the need that we are now experiencing,” said Sr. Roseann Quinn, Bishop’s Delegate for Lifelong Faith Formation. “Significantly, the bishops called for a model of ministry that is ‘incarnate in the reality of the Hispanic people and open to the diversity of cultures.’ This principle is important as we welcome new Catholics to our parish communities, as we seek to serve them more effectively, and invite them to full participation in parish life.”


• More than 20 percent of all Catholic parishes in the United States have Hispanic/Latino(a) ministry.

• More than 80 percent of all (arch)dioceses have diocesan staff coordinating Hispanic/Latino(a) ministry.

• Hispanics/Latinos(as) compose more than 35 percent of all Catholics in the United States.

• Hispanics/Latinos(as) have contributed 71 percent of the growth of the Catholic Church in the United States since 1960.

• More than 50 percent of all Catholics in the United States under age 25 are of Hispanic/Latino(a) descent.

Source: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

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