IT OCCURS TO ME: Faith leaders an important link in communities

The leaders of our faith-based organizations, such as the pastors, priests, ministers, etc. of a community, can have great influence on residents’ decision-making in dealing with different issues of their communities. They can lend a voice and serve as mediators in putting things into perspective to help one navigate through life, which for some includes being civically engaged.

Latino pastors, ministers, priests etc., in particular play a big role in the United States due to the high number of Latinos in our growing communities; whether it’s in the Roman Catholic religion or others.

Having been raised as a Catholic in Planada, I remember having only non-Latino priests at Sacred Heart church. These priests got along well with their parishioners, but I have to admit that to some extent I felt I couldn’t relate. As a matter of fact, when my husband and I got married in Planada I remember the priest celebrated our Mass in English when it was supposed to be done in Spanish. For me that made a big difference because the ceremony was not just for us, but more so for the respect of our parents.

The connection of a religious leader with the community can be and has been a very powerful tool in uniting a small community, and it can be as simple as knowing the language. Although knowing the culture of that community is key.

Many years later it has changed to where I’ve seen more Latino priests, ministers, pastors, etc., in the different denominations and churches that exist in Planada.

Just as other and more diverse religious organizations have become part of the communities of Merced County, so have those who lead these organizations. They are educated individuals who have put in the time to learn about their respective religion or belief, just as others have.

I can remember when the national mediareported in the year 2000 that Mexicans would make up the largest population in a number of states, especially California. The media did it in a way that it put fear in people’s minds, leading them to believe that if this happened, the world as they knew it would be over. That hasn’t happened. So far, the American Dream is still alive and well, not just for Latinos but for other nationalities as well.

During the 1980s, a young Latino elected to the California Legislature once said to a large crowd at a Bay Area reception: “It is true, Latinos in American do have an agenda, and that agenda is the American Dream. It is the hope that everyone has a job, a home, an education and a safe place to raise their children.” That has stayed in my mind in hope of being able to share it with others.

On another personal note, both my husband and I grew up as Catholics and still attend Mass every Sunday. My father-in-law moved to Merced a little more than a year ago and has not missed a single 9 o’clock Mass at St. Patrick’s Church. As it was for my husband, it was for my mother and father (more so my mom), who showed us the importance of having faith in our daily life and to believe in prayer. This doesn’t mean we don’t question certain areas of our religion and the church. We do. But it’s the individuals who run the church that we question the most for a better understanding of the overall picture.