First class graduates from Emmaus Institute: ‘Trained for accompaniment’

When the Emmaus Institute launched in 2019, the organizers, instructors and students could never have imagined what they would encounter before the first class would graduate. From learning during a pandemic to the technology challenges of taking classes online, they persevered and thrived.

Lorenzo Sanchez Rodriguez, a member of Assumption Parish in Morris, prays during the Mass. (Photos by Dianne Towalski/The Central Minnesota Catholic)

The first class graduated Feb. 6 during a Mass and ceremony at St. John’s Abbey Church in Collegeville. Fourteen members of the Diocese of St. Cloud’s Latino Catholic community (and one from the Diocese of Crookston) have completed their studies and earned a certificate in pastoral ministry from the diocese.

“I am pleased and I am proud of all of you,” Bishop Donald Kettler said as he welcomed the graduates to what he called their “baccalaureate” Mass. “Today we pray especially for you, the graduates, and your families as you go forward with what you’re going to be doing in your ministries, which we consider so important.”

The institute, a four-year formation program for lay leadership ministry and potential Latino/Hispanic diaconal candidates, was created by the diocese in cooperation with the Office of the Permanent Diaconate, Office of Multicultural Ministries and St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary.

Julio Cesar Tena Soria, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Elk River, receives his certificate from Bishop Kettler during the Emmaus Institute graduation Mass at St. John’s Abbey Church Feb. 6.

When the program launched, class members already had two years of formation from participation in a previous program that was a collaboration with the Pastoral Institute at St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois.

The students, including five who will continue in formation for the permanent diaconate, gathered for classes at St. John’s or online (during the pandemic) one weekend a month for the past two years.

“I think what’s so exciting about this is that we have 15 people now who have skills to be able to really help their communities thrive … and they’re excited about it too,” said Kristi Bivens, the institute’s administrator.

“I’m excited about the skills that they have, and the knowledge that they have, to be able to work for their parishes and their Area Catholic Communities,” she said. “If they can bring skills, content and formation to their parishes, they can help to grow thriving communities and really make a difference in Central Minnesota.”

Kristi Bivens, Emmaus Institute administrator, addresses the graduates before they are awarded their certificates.

Mayuli Bales, director of multicultural ministries for the diocese, not only helped get the institute going, she is also a graduate. For her, it was important for her classmates to see that the Church is more than their parish — it’s worldwide. And she hopes they see they can have an impact in their communities, parishes and beyond.

“I hope they will be present in our Area Catholic Communities and be active leaders in their parishes,” she said. “Emmaus gives them the opportunity to become roundly formed lay ministers.”

The certification in pastoral ministry is the diocese’s response to a need identified by several studies, including the National V Encuentro, Mayuli said.

The graduates’ impact at the parish level is already being seen. They have hopes of working with youth and families and helping with liturgy, Kristi said. And many of them are already doing these things, but now it will be on a larger scale. She’s hopeful that eventually they will take leadership roles.

“We are grateful to the Emmaus Institute and all it has accomplished,” said Father Mark Innocenti, pastor of St. Andrew Parish in Elk River. “It has allowed our parish to train members of our Latino community for ministry in our community. They are helping in many areas of liturgical and catechetical roles already.”

“They have a real love for their faith, these 15 people, they are so faith-filled. And it’s just been beautiful to see them take this faith that was very personal, and share it with others.”  — Kristi Bivens

These graduates will serve not only the Latino community but also everyone in a parish or Area Catholic Community.

“I think my vision was that the people in the pew know that there’s someone who will be there to listen, to walk with them, to work with them, to serve with them, to celebrate with them. All of those things,” Kristi said. “And I think these people, that’s what they’re trained for. They’re trained for accompaniment. They’re trained for catechesis. ‘Formed’ is a better word. They’re formed for caring for one another.”

As a graduate of Emmaus, Margarita Jimenez of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish in Long Prairie plans the be more involved in parish life. Of the many things graduates learned, what enriched her personal faith the most were activities in which they learned to integrate life and faith.

Two-year-old Gabriel Juarez leans over to see someone he knows during the graduation Mass. He and his parents were there to celebrate with his aunt, Lorena Juarez, one of the graduates.

“The class of small communities — where we not only carried out the theoretical, but also practiced it by forming communities of faith in our parishes — helped me to put into practice everything I learned and to provide a better service to our community,” she said. “With much love and joy, I want to share what I have learned with my parish,” she said.

Arturo Salgado, a member of St. Mary Parish in Melrose, said his experience has helped him grow his faith and have a deeper spiritual life.

“One of the best experiences was what the course ‘Reflexion Teologica’ (Theological Reflection) had to offer,” he said. “I learned to have a deeper love and appreciation for Creation because God is there and in us.”

Arturo plans to continue the work he has been doing in evangelization ministry and catechesis at St. Mary’s. He is currently working with Julio Tena, a fellow graduate, to plan and present retreats around the diocese. He said he also would like to be involved in ministry to the sick.

“They have a real love for their faith, these 15 people, they are so faith-filled,” Kristi said.

“And it’s just been beautiful to see them take this faith that was very personal, and share it with others.”

Author: Dianne Towalski

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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