With October just around the corner, Orange County Catholics are approaching month eight of worshipping in new ways because of COVID-19, with some continuing to attend online Masses and others returning to indoor services under strict attendance and social distancing guidelines.
For many, the last several months have been, well, dispiriting. But a small army of Catholic volunteers has feverishly been working behind the scenes throughout the crisis to boost the spirits and engagement of one of its largest and most active demographic groups in the Diocese of Orange: Parishioners of Latin-American descent.
And keeping things humming has been Armando Cervantes, the recently named director of the Office for Hispanic Ministry.
Cervantes wears another hat as director of the Office of Youth and Young Adults. In July, he took on his additional role on an interim basis after COVID-caused budget tightening eliminated the position of longtime OHM director Deacon Guillermo Torres. In August, Cervantes’ role as OHM director became permanent.
The OHM strives to promote greater integral and enthusiastic participation of Catholics of Latin-American descent. According to diocesan estimates, Latin-American Catholics make up more than 50 percent of those who regularly attend Mass.
“Deacon Guillermo had been walking with and serving the Hispanic community for the past 12 or so years,” notes Cervantes. “He served faithfully and continues to serve our churches as a deacon.”
Calling the new COVID-19 reality “very difficult,” Cervantes credits two so-called movements in the Diocese of Orange, Jovenes Para Cristo (Young Adults for Christ) and Renovacion Carismatica (Charismatic Renewal), with keeping parishioners of Latin-American descent as engaged as possible.
The volunteer groups are referred to as movements because they are active in several of the diocese’s 62 parishes and centers. Jovenes Para Cristo, led by volunteer president Luis Tafolla, is active in 21 parishes. Renovacion Carismatica, led by volunteer president Maria Hilda Garcia, is active in 29 parishes.
“They’ve been busy all spring and summer figuring out how to minister during this time,” Cervantes says. “Hispanics tend to be very physical; we love in-person gatherings. And so (COVID-19) has been a challenge because we very much want to get together and celebrate. These pandemic limitations have really impacted in some ways not only our ministries and movements, but in other ways our morale.”
Jovenes Para Christ and Renovacion Carismatica leaders and volunteers have really stepped up to change that, Cervantes says.
One way has been training others how to use Zoom and how to engage more online, says Cervantes, noting that many parishioners aren’t tech savvy. The OHM volunteers also have been reaching out via phone calls and texts to check in on the faithful, he adds.
“They have very much taken on the responsibility and the task to journey with people amidst this pandemic,” Cervantes said of Tafolla and Garcia.
Since a lot of parishioners served by the OHM work in the restaurant and hospitality industries and have lost their jobs or have had their earnings seriously squeezed because of COVID-spurred shutdowns, Jovenes Para Cristo and Renovacion Carismatica volunteers have made sure to educate them about Catholic Charities of Orange County and the resources available in times of crisis.
Catholic Charities of Orange County serves as a social services agency in the Diocese of Orange by providing such services as food pantry distribution programs, nutrition education and obesity prevention classes, and CalFresh enrollment and education, among many others.
“The volunteers from Renovacion Carismatica have gathered food from their prayer groups and have distributed it to families in need,” says Garcia, the movement’s president. “They have gone to people’s homes to deliver food to those who can’t go out. Our volunteers have helped others financially, too, when needed.”
LEARNING TO PIVOT
Both Jovenes Para Cristo and Renovacion Carismatica have learned to pivot due to the pandemic. For example, Renovacion Carismatica traditionally rents out the Anaheim Convention Center for a big Pentecost event for families.
“Obviously, with the pandemic, that was just impossible this year,” Cervantes says.
But the movement was able to stage the Pentecost event online, with Bishop Kevin Vann participating in a livestreamed celebration.
Jovenes Para Cristo and Renovacion Carismatica leaders are planning other events but aren’t sure which ones they’ll be able to pull off due to COVID restrictions, Cervantes says. For example, still up in the air is whether some semblance of the Halloween-timed Dios de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festivities will happen, he says.
And, in another example, OHS volunteer Baldo Paseta still is hopeful he can pull off a traditional Peruvian procession, Señor de los Milagros, (Lord of Miracles), held every October.
“He’s very determined,” Cervantes says. “A lot of these events, we’re kind of looking at them and saying, ‘How can we make them virtual? How can we make them happen parish by parish or smaller?’ We’re really trying to figure out what can we and can’t do. It’s a week-by-week thing.”