St. Leonard of Port Mauritius Parish in Pelican Rapids has one of the diocese’s oldest Spanish-speaking communities. Up to 60 people from St. Leonard’s participated in gatherings during Lent as part of the local V Encuentro process. They formed two groups, one for Spanish speakers and one for English speakers.
In addition to heading up the Spanish Encuentro gatherings, parishioners Mario and Alejandra Mancilla participated in the English meetings. “Many people in our Hispanic group are bilingual and speak enough English to understand what was going on, so some of us decided to take part in both groups,” Alejandra said.
Deacon Joe Hilber, who also ministers at St. Elizabeth Parish in Elizabeth, led the first meeting with the groups combined together. Then groups met separately.
“Mario and Alejandra facilitated our communication so that everyone understood each other in spite of language difficulties,” said Deacon Hilber’s wife, Nancy.
The two groups also came together the final night and then began planning a bilingual Mass.
“We have [most] bilingual Masses by default, not by choice,” Deacon Hilber said, “because we don’t have enough priests to celebrate both Spanish and English Masses. But our groups asked, ‘What if we had a bilingual Mass on purpose? We could plan music for it, and a bilingual choir could rehearse.’”
While the parish has celebrated bilingual Masses, both by default and by choice, Nancy said this was the first one planned by the Encuentro groups.
They chose May 21, the parish’s annual honoring of high school graduates, as the time for this intentional bilingual Mass. Groups worked together to rehearse, plan the worship, create bulletins and worship aids and cook food for the special brunch.
Nancy acted as the music liaison between the Hispanic and Anglo choirs.
“One difficulty is that names of notes and chords are different in English and Spanish,” she said. “It is hard for the Spanish speakers to sing the English parts of the songs, although that is improving. Also, no one in our choir, except me, speaks any Spanish. So we learned from each other and that resulted in a lot of hilarity at times.”
The planning meetings and rehearsals allowed people to share their thoughts more freely, Nancy said. “We learned that some have felt shy about expressing feelings — of being in the way, or not being wanted at worship, or that they should step back.
That was interesting for us to hear.”
The church was full as St. Leonard’s celebrated the occasion.
“We did it purposefully,” Deacon Hilber said, “with a welcoming committee to greet strangers, with brochures and music in two languages. Even with significant language barriers, people were patient and conversed. We learned more about each other as human beings and about each other’s culture.”
Parishioners chatted over the egg bake made by the Knights of Columbus and the Mexican potatoes with sausage and corn tortillas with hot sauce, Alejandra Mancilla said. “It worked out so well to celebrate all our graduates together. People really enjoyed getting to know others.”
At this bilingual Mass, Alejandra Mancilla appreciated the fullness of the Catholic Church. “Even though people and the language surrounding you may be different,” she said, “when you are in the atmosphere of the bilingual church, you see the true universal church. We have more things in common than are different.”
“People were just beaming and full of enthusiasm,” Nancy said. “We will need to keep up the momentum and also develop other ways to bring the two congregations together. Future events will most likely involve food and music, like a picnic in August.”