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Welcome to another episode of Cathedral Square featuring host, Fr. Christopher Smith.

Fr. Mario Juarez has been the Parochial Vicar at Christ Cathedral for the past 6 years. In working closely with Fr. Christopher, he’s been able to help oversee a thriving Hispanic ministry in Orange County. As a first-generation Mexican American, Fr. Mario talks about his background and eventual journey to the priesthood.


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Originally broadcast on 07/01/22


Hispanic Heritage Month, which begins on Sept. 15 and extends through Oct. 15, celebrates the cultures and positive contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans.

The kickoff date of Sept. 15 coincides with the anniversary of political independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and Sept. 18.

In honor of this special month, the Diocese of Orange will recognize the many Hispanic priests within the diocese through a variety of platforms, including YouTube videos and social media.

“A lot of times you know the priest at your parish, but you don’t know all the priests who are in the diocese,” said Armando Cervantes, director of Hispanic Ministry at the Diocese of Orange.

The featured priests will talk a bit about their cultural backgrounds and speak on faith and why living faith, especially during the pandemic, is so important. Cervantes shared his excitement about the project and said he can’t wait to see what “spiritual nuggets” each priest will share.

According to Cervantes, approximately 40 percent of active Catholics within the Diocese of Orange are Hispanic. Father Greg Marquez, pastor of The Blessed Heart of Mary Church in Santa Anna, said that faith is a vital part of Hispanic culture — something his vibrant, predominantly Spanish-speaking parish is a testament to.

“It’s just a very lively place,” said Marquez. “There’s literally activities going on daily.”

Marquez explained that coming from a predominantly Catholic country, which most if not all Spanish speaking countries are, Catholicism is engrained in the culture.

And the church cultivates that culture through many parish groups and activities that bring the community together.

“With parents who are bringing up their kids in a different country and new culture, since faith was so important to them in their childhood, many parents make a big effort to help transmit that faith and to practice that faith at home,” he said.

Marquez thinks this effort by parents is why his parish is so active – with so many groups and volunteers. If you come to any one of our Masses, even our weekday Masses, you’ll see a big number of altar servers,” he said.

The Blessed Heart of Mary Church offers Spanish Baptism every Saturday which is capped off at 25 children – and any on given week there are exactly that number of children being baptized.

“These are just examples,” said Marquez. “So many people want to be a part of it [parish life] and we’re doing things to help foster that even it’s just having benches set up outside so that people can just come sit and relax under the shade of a tree,” he said.

During the pandemic when the church was allowed to open its doors, many people came in for private prayer and continue to do so. People come by and bring their families; they visit the Blessed Sacrament for a while or pray the rosary in front of the Immaculate Heart of Mary statue.

“I think people like that because it’s an easy way to transmit and share the culture and faith that they were brought up with in their home country, with their children here in this country,” Marquez said.

Part of the mission of the Hispanic Ministry at the Diocese of Orange is also to foster Hispanic culture by working with local parishes to expand their ministries, as well as providing leadership opportunities and social services to the growing Hispanic population within the diocese.

“We partner with the parishes, Catholic Charities and different organizations to support anything from immigration to homeless to young people and adults in jail, a variety of things,” said Cervantes.

And while Hispanic Heritage Month is a great time for everyone to join in the celebration of Hispanic Americans, this recognition should not be confined to one month of the year.

Cervantes explained that the Hispanic Ministry continuously collaborates to provide cultural and religious events for members of the Hispanic faith community to engage with each other and live their faith.

“Our job is to work throughout the year to celebrate Hispanic heritage,” he said.

The Diocese of Orange will launch its video project in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month on Sept. 15. To view, please visit the Diocese of Orange YouTube video page at com/user/DioceseOrange/videos.


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.” 



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.” 


Each week, we bring you compelling conversation with church leaders and laity.

Today, host Rick Howick brings back one of our favorite in-studio guests, Armando Cervantes.

Armando was recently named director of the Office for Hispanic Ministry. But he also wears another hat as director of the Office of Youth and Young Adults. Needless to say, he is a very busy man.

We are thankful that he was able to carve out a little bit of time to join us in our studio – high atop the Tower of Hope.

Tune in and SHARE!





Originally broadcast on 9/19/20