Fr. Hector Madrigal is the pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Amarillo, Texas, which has been featured in a USCCB study on best practices for shared parishes. For nearly two decades he has served as a trainer, facilitator, and speaker on building greater appreciation of culture in church settings. From 2013 to 2016, he was a consultant to the USCCB subcommittee for Hispanic/Latino Affairs, which developed the process for the V National Encuentro of Hispanic/ Latino Ministry, and since 2014, he has been a consultant to the National Leadership Roundtable. Commonweal editor Dominic Preziosi and audience development director Milton Javier Bravo spoke with him recently about “ecclesial integration”; the importance of welcoming, accompanying, and empowering different cultural groups; and how Hispanic ministry contributes to the good of the entire Catholic Church.
Commonweal: As the pastor of St. Joseph’s, you’ve spoken of wanting to increase the appreciation of all the cultures within the Amarillo diocese and develop a stronger sense of community among all of us. Can you talk about the variety of the cultures you see, not only in the diocese but at your parish specifically?
Fr. Hector Madrigal: I’ve been at St. Joseph’s for thirteen years, and it didn’t start off with all these different groups. We had a strong group that I would call Americans; sometimes, in this part of the country, we call them white people. But we also had a significant number of what I call “integrated-slash-assimilated” Mexican Americans. Now, thirteen years later, the parish consists not only of Americans and integrated Mexican Americans, but we have many Mexican immigrants, and they’re the largest group. We also have a significant number of families from South Sudan. We have Salvadorians, Bosnian refugees, and of course, Filipinos. And that’s very much reflective of our diocese.
In terms of “appreciation,” we’ve been very clear that we’re called to open the doors of our church and our hearts to all the people who come to St. Joseph’s. And so in order to do that—partly because of my background in sociology, and partly because I understand, being a Mexican American myself—I began to preach and teach about the importance of recognizing that culture is a gift, that our cultures all have something to contribute to the church. God has brought them into our midst, to our parish. And so we are to receive them as we receive Christ, including their ways of thinking and singing and eating and praying.
CW: What kinds of successes have you seen in terms of realizing this sense of communion in your parish? And what are some of the challenges or difficulties or surprises?
HM: At the very beginning in our parish, we went through a listening process, a planning process, and we very clearly felt called as part of our mission to welcome all God’s children. We didn’t fully understand what it meant at the time. But now I tell the community it was a very prophetic experience—because within two or three months of this whole planning process, we had several South Sudanese families literally come knocking on the door, saying we’re looking for a church. And so we began with this refugee community, and it was so surprising to me how the parish just embraced the community, embraced the South Sudanese in every way they could to help them feel at home in the church.
Now the challenge, which is sad, is that about two years later, the pastoral council came to me and said, “Father, it looks like we have a lot of Spanish-speaking people in our neighborhood. Why aren’t they in our parish? Why aren’t we having Mass?” So I went through a listening process with them and then we agreed to start a Spanish Mass. That was a challenge, because the assumption is that refugees are here legally, and the majority are. But people assume that Spanish-speaking people are here illegally or are undocumented. So we had to work through all of that and begin to challenge the community that we’re here to evangelize, not to Americanize.
Now there’s another serious issue that nationally, in our episcopal region, and in our parish, we have to do a lot of work on: in bringing in the new people, we haven’t done a good job of preparing what we could call the “host” community. And so I began to accompany and listen to a lot of the people who were uncomfortable with the changes, who might even have been angry. You know, there’s a sense of loss. There’s pain in making room for the new people. You know, they’re uncomfortable with a different language, a different culture. And so I have to learn to be intentional in creating space, so they can be honest about what they feel and so we begin to understand them as well. On both sides, it’s a challenge. I call it the “heart work.” T, not D. Yes, it’s also hard work, but it’s about the heart on both sides. And the bottom line is to not be afraid of it. Diversity is a gift. The only thing that we really should be afraid of and uncomfortable with is sin and the consequences of our sin.
CW: At St. Joseph’s you have an event called “Intercultural Disciple-Making Sunday.” Is this a regular effort or something relatively new, and what is the goal of it?