For the first time, 11-year-old Diana Renteria cantored at Mass Sunday, Oct. 16, at St. Andrew Church in Elk River.
It was also the first time many people from the area attended Mass in their native language — Spanish.
With the support of Bishop Donald Kettler and their pastor, Father Mark Innocenti, the community of St. Andrew’s has worked to provide a place for Hispanic Catholics — many of whom have lived in the area for many years — to worship and receive the sacraments.
St. Andrew’s Spanish Mass will be celebrated each Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
Renteria’s older sister, Rosa, said their family used to drive to Anoka to attend a Spanish Mass, but time and distance sometimes made it difficult. She, her husband and their family began attending the English Mass at St. Andrew’s.
“When I would come to the English Mass, I would say my prayers in Spanish along with everyone else,” Rosa said.
“I could follow along and know what was coming next but I know a lot of people in the area who couldn’t do that.”
About five weeks ago, Rosa was asked to read the second reading in Spanish at the English Mass to help raise awareness for the Spanish Mass. Deacon Fred St. Jean, who serves as deacon at the parish, and Pat Rosales, an English Language Learner paraprofessional at Otsego Elementary School, have been working with the Hispanic population in the Elk River and Otsego area for years. Both serve on the diocesan Hispanic ministry team.
One of their first experiences together was when a bassinet was donated to the parish.
“I knew Pat was working with the Hispanic community and that there were some needs,” Deacon St. Jean said. “So I called Pat and she said there was a new family in town that was putting their child to sleep in an empty dresser drawer. So she came and got the bassinet and we’ve been working together ever since.”
The two have many stories of how God has worked through their ministry. The Spanish Mass is just another example.
According to Mayuli Bales, diocesan director of multicultural ministries, Elk River is the seventh parish to adopt a regularly scheduled Spanish Mass. Preceding them are the parishes of St. Leonard in Pelican Rapids, St. Mary of Mount Carmel in Long Prairie, Assumption in Morris, St. Joseph in Waite Park, St. Boniface in Cold Spring and St. Mary in Melrose.
“The Hispanic community in Elk River has been established for more than 20 years. There has always been hope that they could have a Mass in their native language. Now that hope is a reality,” Bales said.
Her goal now is to sustain the Spanish Masses and continue growing the number of participants.
At the first Spanish Mass, attended by about 75 people, Father Oswaldo Roche, a missioner priest from Venezuela who serves the Diocese of St. Cloud, celebrated the
Mass along with Father Innocenti. In the future, Spanish-speaking priests will rotate celebrating the Mass in Elk River including Father Gabriel Walz, retired Father Tony Kroll and Father Ray Monsour, a retired priest from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Father Innocenti said he will fill in as needed and hopes to improve his own Spanish.
“I enjoy Hispanic and Latino cultures and the people,” said Father Innocenti, who has had a longtime relationship with people in Guatemala. “We want to reach out to them, invite them and welcome them.”
Deacon St. Jean has had people ask him, “Why do we need a Spanish Mass?”
“When I was young, I lived in St. Paul. On one corner there was a German church. A few blocks down there was a Polish church. It’s no different now. Hopefully, some day we will have one Mass together and not be divided. But we have to honor and respect their traditions. It may be a little different but it is the same God.”