Jose is a devout, hard-working man, sending every available dollar from his landscaping job to support his wife and three children in Mexico. He has found a faithful friend in George Schmotzer.
Schmotzer volunteers as a tutor at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish in Meadow Lands, Washington County, helping Jose learn English. As a documented worker in the U.S., Jose will rejoin his family later this year and plans to return in 2018 for more seasonal work.
“Jose is quiet, but he gets emotional when we’re done with class,” Schmotzer said. “His eyes brighten and he’s very thankful for what he’s learned.”
Sacrificial gifts from donors to Our Campaign for The Church Alive! will allow others to benefit from a grant expanding Hispanic and Latino ministry efforts in the diocese. The strategic assistance will help the Church not only survive but to grow stronger, according to the volunteer Church Alive! campaign board.
As the new coordinator of Hispanic ministry, Jorge Vela will help promote evangelization to the faithful who primarily speak Spanish, provide program support and coordinate social service outreach in Washington and Butler.
“The Hispanic-Latino population is growing in the Pittsburgh region,” Vela said. “I want to invite the entire community to participate in the life of the Church, fall in love with Christ and be formed in our Catholic identity.” He plans to establish a Latino Advisory Committee and build bridges between the Latino and American culture.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 35,730 Latinos in southwestern Pennsylvania as of 2015, with 22,537 living in Allegheny County. The largest population is concentrated in Pittsburgh’s Beechview neighborhood, where a Spanish language Mass is held Sunday afternoons at St. Catherine of Siena Parish. Masses are also celebrated in Spanish at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, St. Regis in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, St. Paul in Butler, and Our Lady of Joy in Plum.
Nearly seven out of 10 Hispanics in the United States are Catholic, according to statistics cited by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Hispanics accounted for 56 percent of the U.S. population growth from 2000-12.
Vela, a native of Mexico, came to Pittsburgh from Milwaukee, where he was in charge of Hispanic ministry in a city parish, worked to integrate the Hispanic and Anglo communities, and served in administrative roles in the archdiocese. He’s also worked in Italy, Brazil and Mexico and is fluent in Spanish and English, and proficient in Portuguese and Italian.
Father Carmen D’Amico, pastor of Our Lady of Miraculous Medal Parish, encourages parishioners to put out the welcome mat for their Hispanic and Latino neighbors.
“This is their parish. We’re here for them,” Father D’Amico said. “Religious education is also provided in Spanish, and some of our Hispanic youth just went on a parish mission trip to Kentucky.”
Dominick De Filippis, a retired college professor who taught languages and linguistics for 45 years, launched the parish’s English as a Second Language program in April. Three months later, he has 26 volunteer tutors.
“Along with listening, speaking, reading and writing English, we teach language structure, culture and critical thinking skills,” De Filippis said. “It’s a win-win for both students and tutors. Latinos improve their English and develop relationships, and our tutors find the experience rewarding.”
“I enjoy people and want to help them,” Schmotzer said. “I feel I’m doing what God wants me to do.”