Mayuli Bales spends a lot of her time listening. As director of the Diocese of St. Cloud’s Office of Multicultural Ministries, she sees her office as a connection — a crossroads — between people and communities.
“I have discovered that listening brings forward concerns. Sometimes I don’t have answers. Sometimes I am just called to be a companion in the moment,” she said.
Bales has served in her current role for seven years. Her main focus has been on building relationships by inviting, welcoming and simply being present with people.
“Many people call my office for help,” she said. “I am a listening ear for them. Part of what accompaniment means is to walk with Christ through compassion, care, humility, passion and hope. It means to share an encounter and to share the Good News.”
About 80 percent of her ministry is working with Hispanic/Latino communities. For the last four years, she has devoted much time to the V Encuentro, a four-year process that sought to identify the needs of the growing Hispanic/Latino population around the country. In the diocese, she has gathered people to address the concerns, hopes and dreams of the area’s Hispanic/Latino communities.
Among the top priorities identified locally are youth and young adults, marriage and family, and forming pastoral leaders. In 2019, Bales’ goals are to focus on these areas of ministry.
Youth and families
Bales said many of the Latino youth and young adults who are present in our diocese today were either brought here as little children or were born after their parents’ arrival in the United States.
“They are struggling with living in two worlds — the world of their parents with Latino/Hispanic roots and the world of their peers and co-workers here in the United States,” Bales said.
Many of them are teenagers and young parents in the workforce, and some are continuing their education after high school. Bales said there is a concern that there is not sufficient ministry to Latino youth and young adults.
“The youth are a priority in everything we do in the Church,” she said. “But they need their own space. We open our eyes, we listen to them, and we see that they are often living elements of their Latino faith culture. It is present in how they practice their Catholic faith in their everyday lives — for example, celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Posadas, some of the saints or the patrons of their place of origin, following the tradition of their parents. But they do not feel there is a space for them at church.
“The emphasis of the ministries needs to be [on] the youth,” she said. “Our own survival as a Church depends on it. Who will be sitting in the pews for Mass on Sundays? Who will be serving and making a vital church in the next 10 or 20 years?”
One of the ways Bales hopes to bring youth to the forefront is by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Catholic Education Ministries on a diocese-wide Hispanic/Latino youth event next fall. She is also working with parish leaders to invite Hispanic/Latino youth to current youth events like Castaway, rallies and TEC (Together Encountering Christ).
She also is planning to form a group to look at standardizing practices for the sacrament of baptism to support baptism preparation leaders in their ministry.
“Family life and marriage is an important priority for the Catholic Latino ministries,” Bales said.
She also hopes to work in collaboration with the diocesan Office of Marriage and Family and the marriage preparation team for Spanish-speakers to provide enrichment events for couples and families as well as a community event to encourage couples to receive the sacrament of marriage.
Whether you’re talking about bishops, priests, religious or lay ecclesial ministers, Hispanics/Latinos are underrepresented in every leadership category, Bales said.
“Latinos are hungry for leadership, they’re hungry to learn to serve better,” Bales said. “The biggest obstacle they face is academic credentials. How can we allow in people who are clearly ready to do theological work but might not have the prerequisites?”
About two years ago, Bales was instrumental in creating a Hispanic/Latino lay leadership formation program. In collaboration with the Institute of Pastoral Leadership at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in the Archdiocese of Chicago, the group met monthly in Melrose and focused on six areas of study: human abilities, Holy Scripture, Christian spirituality, mission and ministry of the Church, pastoral theology and integration.
About 50 people have gone through the two-year program and are slated to graduate this May. A second cohort began in February. Participants are required to pay $1,000 each year for the course and are encouraged to find sponsors from their parishes and dioceses to help cover the expenses.
“Our baptism calls us to be missionary disciples,” Bales said. “The signs of the times call us to serve the Lord with efficient tools to evangelize. … We need to be visionaries and create the proper channels for the Catholic Latinos, who have this great desire for faith formation to enter viable ministry positions in parishes and the diocese.”
Collaboration is key
Bales said one of her priorities is to work with other diocesan offices and invite them to con-sider how to make Hispanic/Latino ministry a priority. She plans to meet with other directors to maximize resources and look at ways various ministries can grow.
In addition to working with the Hispanic/Latino communities, Bales also works with other ethnic groups and faith leaders in the surrounding area.
Bales said although she is a one-person office, she can’t do anything she does alone.
“Accompaniment means to me to lead others closer to God,” she said. “I see my ministry as a pilgrimage of walking with Christ. And I am not alone. We are all together on this pilgrimage. Everything we do, whether it is focusing on the family, attending to the youth, or forming leaders, all of this is creating a group of pilgrims to work together to build the kingdom of God.”
Contact Mayuli Bales at MBales@gw.stcdio.org or 320-529-4614.