The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) annual Catholic Home Missions Appeal will be taken up in parishes throughout the United States the weekend of April 27-28.
The Appeal funds grants to home mission dioceses — dioceses and eparchies in the United States that are unable to offer their people the basic pastoral ministries of word, worship and service without outside help.
Please give generously.
The Diocese of El Paso in rugged west Texas nestles at the border of three states and two nations.
The city of El Paso is home to more than 800,000 people, many of whom are Catholic, but the diocese stretches into nine rural, sparsely populated counties.
Travel is difficult, and pastoral resources strain to meet the needs of parishioners.
Yet the region is deeply Catholic, and the faith is strong. Catholics make up 80 percent of the population.
Many people are Hispanic, tracing their lineage to Mexico and countries in Central America.
The Church is a central part of life in El Paso, and sacramental rites are often celebrated as neighborhood and community events.
Even so, west Texas is economically challenged. So the Diocese of El Paso relies on Catholic Home Missions funds to support its ministry.
Two extraordinarily successful programs, Tepeyac Institute and the diocesan vocations ministry, train lay ministers and candidates for the Priesthood.
Said Bishop Mark J. Seitz: “It is through these ministries that we can truly strengthen our parishes and provide servants of Christ in the life and mission of the Church.”
Tepeyac Institute is a 30-year-old formation school for lay ministers.
Students come from each of the 57 parishes in the diocese to prepare for parish ministry service.
Deacon Jesus Cardenas, the institute’s director, said parish ministry students begin with a program of Christian formation that includes basic theology.
This program “is the foundation of everything we do,” he said.
More than 15,000 people have taken the Christian formation program since 1988.
Deacon Cardenas said Tepeyac “trains the trainers” by helping them to start or strengthen ministries in their own parishes.
Classes to train ministers of the Eucharist, hospitality, and the Word are most prevalent among the 4,000 annual registrations.
Other course offerings include the liturgical environment and men’s spirituality.
Tepeyac balances academic training with spirituality by adding one-day retreats to many of the programs.
Tepeyac faculty are priests, religious, and laypeople, most of whom hold advanced degrees in their field of instruction.
Jose A. Maldonado, an usher and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at his parish, has studied at Tepeyac for three years.
“The parish is strengthened by Tepeyac, because more people are trained and can participate,” he said.
His wife, Erlinda, added, “It’s a good, good place to go to learn about your faith.”
She and her husband recently completed a three-year Bible study.
Mrs. Maldonado shared much of what she learned with fellow members of a parish group that crochets hats and scarves for those in need. Several of the other crochet artists now study at Tepeyac.
“I started at Tepeyac because I wanted to know more about the Church,” said Jose Montes de Oca. “I love it. The instructors are really knowledgeable and my faith has been strengthened.”
Mr. Montes de Oca and his wife belong to a small worship community for couples within their parish. He has shared his insights with other members of their group, and two more couples have now enrolled in Tepeyac.
Vocations to the Priesthood are on the rise in El Paso.
“We have 27 seminarians, up from 12 just a few years ago,” said Father Mariano Lopez, director of seminarians and vocations.
Fr. Lopez and his small team use email and social media to keep in contact with young men who have expressed an interest in the Priesthood.
The team also conducts a monthly Mass for vocations and publishes regular articles in the diocesan newspaper.
This young vocations director visited every parish in the diocese in 2015, his first year in the post.
“You’re planting seeds; there’s no immediate result, but the word spreads,” Fr. Lopez said.
The path to Priesthood begins with a discernment year at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in El Paso.
After the initial year, seminarians study at one of five seminaries outside the diocese.
Fr. Lopez said one-third of the current seminarians are from El Paso or neighboring communities in Mexico.
Others hail from Colombia, Venezuela, Philippines and Benin in west Africa.
Javier Valles, 21, is in his second year of seminary studies. He is an El Paso native whose parents came from Chihuahua, Mexico.
“We’re a very religious family,” he said. “I don’t remember a Sunday we didn’t go to Mass.”
Mr. Valles and his three brothers all play instruments, and his Confirmation gift from his mother was a guitar. Sadly, it was her last gift to him before she died during his senior year of high school.
In high school, Mr. Valles was drawn to the Priesthood by an invitation in a homily from Bishop Seitz: to be open to the call of God. His parents were supportive, but before her death, his mother suggested he take time before applying to the seminary.
So the young man started college studying engineering and music. He stepped away from school to deal with his grief at the loss of his mother.
Then at the 2016 World Youth Day in Poland, he was inspired by Pope Francis’ message to be brave, go forth, and try out the world.
Today, as a seminarian, he looks forward to a priestly ministry of helping people, especially teens, deal with contemporary challenges.
“I want to be a spiritual guide for my people,” he said.
Fellow seminarian Alfonso Coronado, 28, likewise credits his family.
“All of my vocation comes from my family,” he said. “We prayed the Rosary every day at home and attended Mass and holy hour every week at church.”
As a 17-year-old, Mr. Coronado entered a seminary formation program in Chihuahua and later took a break to do missionary work and help in the religious formation program at his parish.
The former director of vocations in El Paso invited him to enter the seminary there. Mr. Coronado studied at St. Mary Seminary in Houston and is now serving a pastoral year at a parish in El Paso.
Mr. Coronado now looks toward priestly ordination.
“I fell in love with God from the first time I knew Him and I asked what I had to do for Him,” he said. “I want to be the guy showing the happiness of God to the people.”