The Bread of Life unites all at the table of the Lord
By Deanna V. Sass | Special Contributor
People of varying ethnicities and cultures have distinct experiences and unique traditions which they can share with one another. When these kinds of intercultural exchanges happen within faith communities, not only do the persons learn new things or gain new ideas, but they may find they grow deeper in their own faith through witnessing the lived faith life of others.
One day the university chaplain said to her, “Gina you are a strong Christian, you know the Bible very well, you’re the best example of all of our Catholic students here” to which she responded, “but Father, I’m not Catholic.”
The years passed, and Gina worked for much of her adult life as a special education teacher helping abused children. She also married and soon had children of her own. Once they were grown, Gina volunteered teaching English to Spanish-speaking people in Princeton.
In her first year of teaching English, one of her students invited her to ‘San Pablo,’ (St. Paul Parish) to the Spanish Mass. She said, “Thanks for the invitation but I have two problems: first, my Spanish is not good, and second, I’m not Catholic. She told me not to worry about those things, and to just go!”
Gina recalled, “The seeds that were planted when I was at Boston College had been growing and when my student asked me if I wanted to come to Church. It was right then and there that I thought,” my heart is in the Catholic Church, and with this invitation, now my heart was truly ready.”
Gina remembers with great joy, “The first time I went to St. Paul’s Spanish Mass, I could only understand one word the whole time, ‘Dios,’ (God) but what I encountered that night, was the very heart of Jesus. I saw the heart of Christ like never before! In the Latino community I found an open warm and welcoming heart. I loved the energy of the Mass and the lively music. One person in the choir came to me and said ‘welcome to Mass!’ So many people welcomed me and said ‘hello!’
“From that first Mass, I kept going every Sunday. I began studying with Father Javier Diaz, and later continued with Father Rene Pulgarín, they showed me that in the Word of God is found the truth of the Catholic faith. I was deeply touched especially by the Gospel of John, chapter 6, hearing about “The Bread of Life.”
I met the people of the community (and) began volunteering in the parish, helping with any needs as they arose. From visiting a premature newborn in the intensive care unit to visiting a man in prison; from babysitting for a family when they had an emergency, to collecting bread from the local restaurants to distribute after Mass, I came to love the people of the Hispanic community of St. Paul’s, and seeing their deep and vibrant faith, made my own faith grow.”
The story of Gina’s faith journey led to her completing the RCIA process, (RICA in Spanish) and receiving the sacrament of Confirmation and First Holy Eucharist at the Easter Vigil Mass in 2009.
It is our hope that all will see what Gina has, that when we open ourselves to encounter those who may seem or may be different from us, we might find more than we ever could have imagined. Thus the meaning of the word “catholic” as universal comes to life in our own diverse parishes, and in our own lives.
Sass is the director of the diocese’s Department of Multicultural Ministries.