Long Prairie community celebrates ‘unity in diversity’

Jan. 22 was a typical Tuesday night Mass at St. Mary of Mount Carmel Church in Long Prairie. As usual, about 40 to 50 people attended, praying the rosary together before Mass began. What marked the occasion as special was the celebration that followed.

Just days before the Mass, parishioner Margarita Cervantes and her husband, Marco, were visiting with St. Mary’s pastor, Father Omar Guanchez. Margarita noted how the community has changed over the last 20 years.

“I see so much more unity,” Margarita said. “I see more Anglo people coming to the Spanish Mass, and I see more Hispanic people coming to the English Mass on the weekends. People are more welcoming, greeting one another.”

Margarita wanted to do something special to celebrate and honor those who have made the community one.

“The Holy Trinity is a community — the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is important to me and to our family to build community together. My children were born here, they are Mexican-Americans. They are part of this community and part of this country and we need to build a community of support for one another,” Margarita said.

Marilyn Zastrow, a member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish in Long Prairie since 1954, laughs with Margarita Cervantes, left, and Margarita Jimenez. (Photo by Dianne Towalski)

She reached out to others from her Hispanic prayer group and invited them to bring treats to share after the Tuesday night Mass.

Father Guanchez said the timing was appropriate to celebrate “unity in diversity.”

“We have been growing as a community in integration, unity and fellowship,” he said in his homily. “We just celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. He had a dream of unity in this country. God also has a dream for every parish community in the world to be one, like the Father and the Son are one.”

St. Mary’s is comprised of about 650 total households; about 20 percent are Hispanic/Latino families. On weekends, there are Masses in both English and Spanish.

During the week, both English- and Spanish-speaking parishioners attend the Tuesday evening Mass and Father Guanchez incorporates both languages into the liturgy.

Elizabeth Montanez, who attends St. Mary’s with her husband, Jose Cisneros, said when her father came to Long Prairie over 20 years ago, he sometimes felt unwelcome.

“He felt that people didn’t like us. They looked at us strangely,” she said.

“Now everyone says hi, everyone feels welcome,” Cisneros added.

“Initially, it was something different,” said Jim Nalezny, a member of St. Mary’s for over 40 years. “People in small towns aren’t always big on change. It just takes time.”

Margarita Jimenez hands Betty Schenk a plate of treats during the gathering. (Photo by Dianne Towalski)

Nalezny, along with longtime St. Mary’s parishioners Betty Schenk and Marilyn Zastrow, stayed after Mass and enjoyed the treats made by the Hispanic parishioners, including “galletas,” cookies with cinnamon and sugar; flan, a Mexican dessert made with milk and eggs and covered in caramel; “leche de arroz,” a warm rice milk beverage; Mexican hot chocolate; and Jello.

Nalezny appreciates the devotion the Hispanic community brings to the parish.

“There are almost always fresh flowers at the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. That shows dedication. That is something that not all of us people of German, Polish heritage do,” he said.

“It used to be that the Hispanic people sat together in one place,” Zastrow added. “Now everyone sits all over. If we are going to be in the same place, we ought to all be together, we don’t have to have ‘our’ side and ‘their’ side.”

Another example of the way the community has a blending of cultures is through their annual Knights of Columbus “fish taco fundraiser” during Lent, planned this year for March 8 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The Hispanic community has also begun participating in the summer parish festival, offering a taste of traditional fare at the food stands.

Father Guanchez added that having an adoration chapel also has been instrumental in uniting the community.

“Over 100 Anglos and Hispanics are committed to doing one hour of Adoration [each week],” he said. “They see each other in there, as adorers come and go. The Eucharist brings us together.”

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is a multimedia reporter for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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