By JOANNE FOX
SOUTH SIOUX CITY, Neb. – Although Adrian Paz of Denison was pleased that attendance had increased at this year’s Hispanic charismatic congress, real-world issues may have kept some away.
“Word was there might be ICE agents coming today,” he said, referring to the acronym for the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement department, known to arrest illegal migrants at workplaces and events.
“That may have scared some people away,” admitted Paz, one of the organizers of the event.
The 14th Annual Hispanic Charismatic Congress for the Diocese of Sioux City was held July 14-15 at the Delta Hotels Center by Marriott in South Sioux City.
The theme was: Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant. Bishop Walker Nickless was the principal celebrant of the opening Mass on July 14.
In his remarks, Bishop Nickless expressed similar sentiments of concern.
“I know many of you are frightened and scared about many things that are happening in our country today,” he said in English, while Father Jeremy Wind of Cathedral of the Epiphany translated in Spanish.
“Maybe you and or some or your relatives have been hurt badly,” the bishop continued. “Please remember, the church always has room for you and you are always welcomed and appreciated.”
The bishop began the Mass by saying, “En el nombre del padre y del hijo y del espíritu santo. La paz sea con vosotros.”
Then, he confessed, “That’s all the Spanish, I know.”
Once the laughter subsided, Bishop Nickless, welcomed all to the Archdiocese of Omaha and expressed his thanks to Omaha Archbishop George Lucas “for allowing us to host this wonderful event in his archdiocese.”
“But most of all,” he added, while Father Wind continued to translate, “thank you for your beautiful expression of faith and my hope is you grow closer to Jesus today.”
In his homily in Spanish, Father Wind explained he spoke to the readings, in which Jesus assured the faithful “to not be afraid.”
“I talked about how Jesus asked, ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin?’ then answered, ‘Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge,’” he said. “I told them they were also worthwhile.”
Father Wind received a great deal of laughter with the Scripture reference from Matthew’s Gospel, “Even all the hairs of your head are counted.”
“I told them God might have some trouble counting the hairs on my head,” said the priest, who doesn’t sport a full head of hair.
Concelebrating on the altar was Father Mario Castaneda, ordained for the Diocese of Stockton, Calif., in 1995 and serving the Palm Beach Diocese since 2002.
“I’m going to talk later on the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady and how Mary was conceived without sin,” he said. “My hope is that people will strive to be like the Mother of God, as the church calls us to be pure and holy.”
Father Mario, currently the pastor at St. John Fisher Parish and the spiritual director of a preaching ministry called “Tu Palabra Hoy” (Your Word Today), planned to share insights on the recent exhortation of Pope Francis, “Gaudete et Exsultate” (Rejoice and be glad). It is subtitled “On the call to holiness in the contemporary world.”
“Pope Francis calls us in this exhortation to pursue sainthood,” Father Mario noted. “We do that through God’s grace, and through Mary, which is the emphasis of this congress.”
Fernando Gomez, an Ecuadorian Christian singer-songwriter based in Miami, was in attendance with his wife Miriam.
“I am blessed to share my ministry with these people,” he said, as he looked to the heavens and thanked God for the gift of music.
Both Fernando and Miriam left their jobs and founded the Catholic Ministry of Evangelization Christian Varieties.
“An event like this is so important because it allows people to grow in their faith,” Miriam said.
She continued, “We preach at many conferences and our belief is: It doesn’t matter if there are 15,000 or 10 people. If just one person receives Jesus Christ in their soul, then, that’s good enough for us.”
Father Ubaldo Roque Huerta, a priest of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minn., was another featured speaker.
“I am going to talk about increasing our relationship with Mary through Jesus,” he said.
The priest currently serves as parochial vicar at St. Mary Parish, Worthington, Minn., and assists with Hispanic ministry.
“It’s very important for people to understand the connection Our Lady has with her son,” he said. “The theme of this event is Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, and she is the one who is our new alliance with Jesus.”
Organizers from Denison, Storm Lake and Sioux City have been meeting since last year’s Hispanic Congress to put together this year’s event. Of particular concern was the low attendance at last year’s congress, as the Archdiocese of Omaha had scheduled its charismatic congress the same days. This year’s event in Omaha will be July 28-29.