The Arlington Diocese is among the fastest growing in the Catholic Church in America, due in part to a rise in Spanish-speaking families.
Friday morning, Bishop Paul S. Loverde introduced Fr. Eugenio Hoyos, the third director of the Diocese’ Spanish Apostolate, who discussed his new position and goals for increasing the church’s presence in Hispanic communities.
“My family moved to America from Colombia for political reasons and the Arlington Diocese welcomed me,” Fr. Hoyos said. His first assignment was as an associate pastor at St. Thomas More Cathedral in Arlington. He then served at the St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Parish in Falls Church before becoming pastor at the Holy Family Church in Dale City.
He looks at his new position as giving him the opportunity to give “un regalo de Dios” to the Hispanic community —a gift of God. “We are a rainbow of many cultures in the Spanish world, and the programs the church offers are open to every baptized person. It’s a lot of work, but it’s exciting work and it is beautiful work to do,” he said.
The diocese is the “first open door” when families come to America, he said, making his new job “like having three or four parishes in one. Many believe the Spanish Apostolate is the crux of their faith.”
Focusing on education will allow the church to help the Hispanic community find new leaders, both within the church and their own communities, Fr. Hoyos said. And with the Spanish-speaking population growing rapidly in Northern Virginia, the help will be needed.
“I don’t know where they are coming from. Maybe the Holy Spirit is sending them here too quickly,” he said with a chuckle. “We need to be patient and keep working hard. We are one diocese. We cannot be living in two separate worlds.”
At several times during his presentation, Fr. Hoyos spoke in his native Spanish for viewers of a local Spanish-language television channel, telling those who watched that their influence on the community and in the church is “very big. We are a strong force … With education we will reach every person, every family. We have a lot to do but we’ll do it together.”
“Ten years ago, there were only a handful of parishes that offered masses in Spanish,” Bishop Loverde said when introducing Hoyos. “There are now 34 churches that offer them. We’re moving forward. This is a time for building foundations.”
Ministering to a multicultural community is one of the three missions for the diocese, Loverde said. “The Catholic Church in America was initially an immigrant church. The Catholic Church serves as a touchstone for other immigrants in the community.”
The son of a Sicilian immigrant father, Loverde said he feels a connectedness with new American families. “I remember what it was like to grow up in that culture, where the church was one place you felt you belonged,” he said.
Many of the new immigrants come from El Salvador, Hoyos said, which is also the country where MS-13, a violent gang that is growing in Northern Virginia, has its roots.
THE FEAR OF gangs has been coupled with the growing controversy of a possible day laborer gathering spot in Herndon, an issue Loverde thinks needs to be addressed with less emotion and more concern for human dignity.
“We need to lay out the principles of Christ in terms of social justice,” Loverde said. “We as a diocese are sensitive to the needs of immigrants and must remain so. We care for the basic rights of the individual. Works is one way to achieve dignity. We need to welcome the strangers into our community as Jesus welcomed them.”
Many in the region have made the day laborer issue an emotional one, and Loverde hopes that can be changed.
“We need to look at the principles behind the issue rather than the emotional reaction,” he said. “We need to come up with a human response.”
“The church has to be careful” when addressing gang issues, Hoyos said, because of the confidentiality priests are sworn to uphold. “If they knew someone is telling you that someone is watching their family, they will destroy you.”
Fr. Richard Mullins, director of the Office of Multicultural Ministries, said the church is a “beacon of hope for people of all cultures who seek to assimilate into our culture. As the complexion of Northern Virginia changes, so does the complexion of the diocese.”
According to its own records, the diocese of Arlington is among the five fastest-growing diocese in the country with over 400,000 Catholics. It also has the largest percentage of Salvadorans of any U.S. diocese and one of the largest concentrations of Vietnamese Catholics in the country.