Spanish Prayer Group nurtures family, catechesis

The roll call of countries represented in the heritages of about two dozen northshore-based Catholics is long and varied: Mexico, Honduras, Colombia, Nicaragua, Chile, Venezuela, Spain, Puerto Rico.

Uniting them over the last decade has been the Spanish Prayer Group at Mary Queen of Peace Parish in Mandeville, which meets monthly for an hour to 90 minutes of Spanish-language prayer, adult faith formation, food and fellowship.

Being able to pray – and also learn and articulate the nuances of faith – in one’s first language is a priceless commodity in the life of a Catholic, noted Teresian Sister Marina Aranzabal, pastoral associate at Mary Queen of Peace since 2003 and a native of Spain assigned to the Archdiocese of New Orleans since 1968.

“For Spanish-speaking people who live in this country, they must live in English when it comes to the world of business – they know they have to do that, so they do that,” Sister Marina said. “However, at home and for prayer, whenever it is the language of love or the language of intimacy, they do it in their language. That’s why it’s important that they’re able to pray in Spanish.

“When you pray from your heart, you have to pray in your own language,” she added.

A ministry is formed

The Spanish Prayer Group was launched in 2006 when Father Ronald Calkins, then pastor, invited a handful of Spanish-speaking couples to his house to ask a simple question: “What do you need in Mary Queen of Peace Parish?”

“We started because we wanted to get together to do something for the Spanish community,” said Elizabeth Ryan, a native of Colombia who has lived in the United States for 23 years. Ryan was a key player in setting up the new ministry at Mary Queen of Peace, having organized a Spanish prayer group of about 200 people at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Portchester, New York.

“Initially, it was just a way to get together to talk about faith,” Ryan said, noting that for the first seven years, the group’s monthly meetings at Mary Queen of Peace involved praying the rosary in Spanish, sharing prayer intentions and having an in-depth discussion about the readings for the upcoming Sunday Mass using the Spanish-language version of “The Word With Us.”

Three years ago, as more and more adults needed sacramental prep – for confirmation, marriage and the validation of existing civil marriages – the meeting template changed. Adult faith formation became the priority, sessions of which drew about 25 attendees in 2015-16. The topics of study, facilitated by Sister Marina, have included the Gospel of Luke and personal growth. The theme of this year’s formational sessions will focus on morality, using the Spanish translation of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.”

The ministry also has a strong family element. During the group’s inaugural, all-Spanish Advent celebration in 2006, only about 10 parishioners took part in the novena, the Living Nativity enacted by their children, Christmas songs and culminating meal. Last Advent, that number swelled to 100.

The Spanish Prayer Group also coordinates an outdoor Way of the Cross in Spanish on Good Friday, held on the grounds of the Teresian Spirituality Center in Covington and followed by a light meal. Another Lenten, Spanish-language Way of the Cross takes place inside Mary Queen of Peace Church, during which the faithful can access the sacrament of reconciliation in Spanish.

Marriage prep in Spanish

Significantly, Elizabeth Ryan and her husband Harry are certified to offer Spanish-language marriage prep in their home and welcome new couples interested in providing this vital ministry to their fellow Spanish-speakers. Assisting the group with formational talks and marriage prep is a visiting deacon – Carlos Ramirez of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Slidell.

“Many (local Hispanics) are married civilly (only),” Sister Marina said. “The whole idea is evangelizing so they can validate the marriage and then come to the sacraments.”

Reaching the unchurched

“We have many Hispanic people who are unchurched, so our biggest outreach is to our Hispanic brothers and sisters to make sure that they come to something,” Sister Marina added. “Every time we get one more person to come (to the Spanish Prayer Group), we’re happy! To get their children in CCD – that’s a big deal; to get their marriage validated – that’s a big deal. Once you’re connected, you can tell the parents that they need to bring their children to CCD and to Sunday Mass.”

Petra Madrigal, who came to the United States nine years ago from Mexico, joined the ministry in 2008. She now offers peer support as a faith companion and prepares much of the food served to attendees of the faith formation sessions.

“My most important achievement is to see how God allows me to reach into people’s hearts and souls, to listen to their spiritual needs and support them with words of hope, faith, prayers or offering advice to my best knowledge,” Madrigal said. “Helping people strengthen their faith or convert to the faith is like a miracle to me!”

The Spanish Prayer Group will kick off a new year of classes Sept. 9 with a 7 p.m. Mass at at Mary Queen of Peace Church. All are welcome to attend the Mass, celebrated in Spanish by Dominican Father Angel Diaz-Perez.

The group, which has the full support of Father John-Nhan Tran, pastor of Mary Queen of Peace Church, also initiated ESL and citizenship classes. Instructors Linda and Dexter Williams offer the instruction in the parish center every Friday at 7 p.m. For information on any of these programs, contact Elizabeth Ryan at (985) 951-9540.

In other news of interest to Spanish-speaking Catholics who reside in Western St. Tammany Parish: Beginning Sept. 4, Father Diaz-Perez will celebrate Sunday Mass – a Spanish-language liturgy formerly conducted at St. Jane de Chantal Church – at a new and permanent location at former Most Holy Trinity Church, 4465 Hwy. 190 East Service Road, Covington. Mass times are 10 a.m. and noon. Turn to page 15 for a listing of Spanish-language Masses in the archdiocese.

Beth Donze can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


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