Translating the Faith Church Speaks Paritioners' Language

By McCoppin, Robert | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), February 23, 1997 | Go to article overview

Translating the Faith Church Speaks Paritioners' Language


McCoppin, Robert, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Robert McCoppin Daily Herald Staff Writer

Sister Judy Callahan remembers how comforting it was to attend Mass celebrated in her own language while she was working in Ecuador.

Although Sister Callahan is bilingual and understood every Spanish word, it meant more to her in her native English.

"The songs, the homilies, were geared to us," she remembered. "It was geared to our experience as foreigners in a strange land.

"That's why I know it's very important to pray and worship in the language in which you were brought up."

That is also why Sister Callahan works to involve Hispanics in worship in DuPage County. She directs Hispanic Ministries for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet.

She is also part of a growing movement to bring Spanish-speaking immigrants together through one of their greatest common bonds, the church.

From the time of Spain's colonization in the Americas, the Roman Catholic church has been an important part of life for many Spanish-speaking people here.

When the Spanish conquered indigenous people, the Roman Catholic religion sometimes took on aspects of the local religions.

This gives Hispanic worship a different flavor than church traditions in the English-speaking world.

"The Mass is festive in a different way," said Rev. Pete Jankowski, of St. Mary's Church in West Chicago.

Where English services often use an organ and traditional Anglo hymns, Spanish masses add guitars, tambourines, maracas, more percussion and a different beat.

Hispanics chant "Nada te turbe," a chant meaning "Let nothing harm you."

When those words are repeated, "You almost get a feeling of a lot of the suffering Hispanics have had to endure," Jankowski said.

Cultural differences in religious services extend from baptisms to birthdays and weddings.

- When preparing for baptisms, Hispanics sometimes buy a baptismal set that includes a cup to pour water on the child and a cloth to wipe the child off. The priest might bless these items as keepsakes.

- At a child's third birthday, he or she is presented to the congregation, and the priest prays for the child. This is a way for the congregation to meet its newest member.

- Upon a girl's 15th birthday, she might take part in a quinceanera. In this ceremony, her life is devoted to God and the Virgin Mary.

- At weddings, before the couple says their vows, the priest puts a lasso around them. The figure-eight rope sometimes dangles a rosary. It symbolizes that no man can destroy what God has joined.

The most striking difference, though, might be the posadas, or the processions.

Every day for the 10 days before Christmas, some Hispanics participate in candlelight processions to church through the neighborhoods. During the posadas, they sing and pray before Mass is celebrated.

On the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Dec. 12, there is a serenade for the Virgin Mary. This holy day is celebrated with a another procession and midnight Mass.

"People look forward to it," said Luis Pelayo, president of the Hispanic Council, a not-for-profit advocacy group in Bensenville. "I think it's a lot of fun. We love it, because we grew up with it."

The church plays an important role in the lives of Hispanics, and it helps keep their marriages and families together, Pelayo said.

But, he added, the church is not doing enough to help solve a growing problem in the community: teenage pregnancy. …

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