St. Paul Church serving Hispanic community

SALEM – St. Paul Church first started ministering to the Hispanic community in 2003 with a Spanish Mass. Now a dedicated center will serve their needs both spiritually and practically a couple of days per week.

Known as Centro San Pablo, the St. Paul Center located on the ground floor of the parish center, will be dedicated with a Spanish Mass at 5:30 tonight, followed by a procession to the center, a ribbon-cutting and a blessing.

Rev. Robert Edwards of St. Paul Parish and Rev. Bernie Mlapah, who serves as chaplain of FCI Elkton, are scheduled to concelebrate during the Mass. Some of the women from the Hispanic community will prepare traditional food for the dedication celebration.

According to Sister Mary Ann McFadden, SND, members of the Hispanic community have been invited to attend the open house, where organizers will explain the reason for the center and when it will be open.

Current plans call for the center to be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, with at least one, possibly two, Spanish-speaking people on hand at all times to help translate and minister to those needing help. Alma Ciriello and Efrain Ruana both work in the Hispanic ministry through Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Youngstown.

McFadden said Ciriello will be there on Mondays and Ruana on Tuesdays. She’s still looking for a second person for each day so one Spanish-speaking person can stay on site and one can be available for home visits or taking people to appointments.

The center will offer English lessons, access to two computers and lessons in their use, music through guitar lessons and choir practice, sacramental preparation and spiritual formation, help with paperwork, such as documents and applications, and guidance on where to get help for transportation, information on the immigrant health program at St. Elizabeth Hospital, legal help and help with immigration issues. There will be fun, also, with cooking, crafts and socializing, which Ruana said is very important.

McFadden described the Hispanic population as extremely hard-working and family-oriented. When she first came to St. Paul’s in 2006, there were some Hispanic families in Salem, but not like there are today. Ruana said St. Paul offered the Spanish Mass, which is now the first Sunday of each month.

The population grew and for a while St. Paul Church was the place ministering to them.

Rev. Hery Salamanca, sponsored by First Christian Church, is a missionary from Colombia who’s also working on a center for the Hispanic population through Christians With a Mission. McFadden said he works a lot with the men who come here to work and send money home to their families. The majority of Hispanics come from Guatemala, then Mexico, and a few other countries. St. Paul Church works a lot with the families, helping the young women during pregnancy and helping with the children and getting them acclimated to school.

The church members have been helping the families with their various needs, but McFadden said, “We wanted to have one place where they can call it their own.”

Ruana said there are many different dialects of the Spanish language, making communication difficult for some, even with someone who may speak Spanish. McFadden spent a month in Guatemala and learned about the culture and went to a Spanish-speaking school. She said many of the families here are first-generation immigrants.

She said one of the primary goals of the center will be spiritual formation, which the church has been doing with preparing children for First Communion, handling baptisms and weddings and special celebrations. Ruana said one of those celebrations is known as the quinceanera, a coming of age party when a girl turns 15. Many rites and customs go along with it.

This year the focus is on a growth in the understanding of the Mass and the Bible and marriage. McFadden said she’s found many have just a surface knowledge of their faith because they’re busy with their families and working and trying to figure out the health system and the school system.

“We want to help them grow in their faith,” she said, adding, “We learn a lot from them, too.”