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Mass Draws Hispanic Faithful

Changing population ushers in need for Spanish-language ceremony.

They came in by the hundreds and moved quietly to the pews of the Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Herndon, smiling politely to one another, some while holding the hand of child, others walking with the assistance of a cane. Some came alone while others came in the company of four generations of family members.

Their eyes closed as tightly as their clasped fingers as they prayed, kneeling at their pews, elbows draped over the backs of the pews in front of them.

While the voices of children would occasionally pierce the respectful silence of Father Richard Mullins’ Sunday mass ceremony, most would only speak after grasping the hand of the person next to them, when singing or repeating a prayer. Last Sunday’s Mass at Saint Joseph Church was just like every other one at the church that day except it was entirely in Spanish.

"It feels very good, we are so happy and filled with love," said Chantilly resident Carmen Umana, originally from El Salvador, upon standing from her seat at the end of the ceremony. "This means so much to us because we [the Hispanic community] are very strong followers of the [Catholic] religion and now we finally have a place to go and continue on with our worship."

Umana, who does not speak English, said that hearing a mass in her native language makes her feel so much more comfortable and at ease than those in English.

SINCE SPANISH MASS at Saint Joseph Church began on April 23, several hundred members of the Hispanic community of the surrounding area have heeded the calls to worship, with 400 to 500 showing up every Sunday to worship, according to church officials.

Although Spanish Masses are not uncommon in northern Virginia, as both Saint John Neumann Catholic Community Church in Reston and Christ the Redeemer Roman Catholic Church in Sterling offered masses in the language prior to Saint Joseph, the new mass is nonetheless an indicator of a changing need in the community, according to pastor James Angert of Saint Joseph Church.

"In Herndon, we have a lot of Hispanics here that really only speak Spanish," Angert said. "There are a lot of Latinos here, and it’s really nice for them to be able to have a place to worship in which the language is their own."

"It’s very important to have a sense of feeling that they are at home when they come here," he added. "We want them to feel at home when they worship."

Angert remembered that he first noticed the population make-up of Herndon was changing when he watched a bus of children unloading in Herndon a couple years ago only to see all of the exiting students appearing to be of Hispanic descent.

"If you even look back 20 years ago, by and large, Elden was the only street in the whole town," Angert said. "What has happened is the mammoth growth of the last 15 years and there is a significant change in the population."

According to 2000 U.S. Census data, members of the Hispanic community make up 26 percent of Herndon’s total population.

To Angert, the decision to have an option to hear Sunday Mass in Spanish was only natural as the church needed to think about addressing the needs of a changing community.

"The Washington, D.C. area is such a multicultural one," Angert said. "If you can appreciate several cultures, you can fully bring them out and bring out the best in them. If you can do that, then everyone around is enriched."

THE DECISION and the organization of the Mass was carried out by Angert and the members of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington. Its delivery is usually split between father Richard Mullins and father Jose Hoyos of the Diocese.

Mullins delivered last Sunday’s Mass.

"The Hispanic community in the area has really wanted [Spanish Mass] for awhile, and fortunately we have a pastor here who could get it organized and make it happen," said Mullins, who is the son of a Cuban mother and American father and grew up in the Great Falls area of Virginia.

"I think for anyone, anywhere around the world will see a church as a universal touchstone where they can come and can feel a spiritual connection," he said. "It’s a day where they can come together on one of those few times that they’re not working, and worship."

"This is a place where people can come together and feel welcome, and I think they haven’t always got that in Herndon."

Both Mullins and Angert said that the reaction in the community and the church as a whole that they have seen has been very positive.

"It’s only going to grow," Mullins added. "There is more and more diversity coming out this way and we will definitely be seeing more Spanish sermons… and more languages, not just Spanish."

"Coming out here and seeing this church so filled with people who had been away from the church for so long, and seeing all these people as a priest, it’s such an evangelical experience," he said. "That feeling of reaching out to a new flock is so great."