Olney: Church Serves as Backbone to Latino Community

A family prayed together at mass.


A family prayed together at Mass.

Spanish is the sole language spoken during the third Mass on Sundays at St. William Parish, located in Olney at 6200 Rising Sun Ave.

More than 150 attended this Mass. Parishioners usually began arriving at 10 am. Everyone arriving greets each other warmly with a hug or a kiss or a clasped hand. Some will stand and chat behind the last set of pews before deciding where to sit. The buzz of voices is constant until the priest walks in and the pianist strikes the first chord signaling his procession up the aisle and the start of Mass.

The largest Peruvian congregation in the city attends St. William Parish. About 300 families make up the Latino congregation, Sister Rachel Torrieri said. Catholicism is the largest religion throughout Latin America.

Rev. Joseph Watson took a private moment before Mass.

Despite the good turnout not all of the parishioners are able to attend Mass regularly.

Many Latinos are unable to attend regularly because of their rigorous work schedules. Sunday is no longer the day of rest. Today, many parishioners are required to work and cannot take every Sunday off.

Many must work long, hard hours to survive and to take care of the family. They are working so hard that they are left with no time to do anything else but eat and sleep. They also don’t have enough time to learn English.

Arcides De Jesús, who works for Catholic Social Services at Casa del Carmen, said, “To be part of American society you need to speak English.”

Many Latino community leaders understand this yet they also know that the native Spanish speakers are short on time.

Arcides also said, “Children of immigrants will get better education but parents remain behind.”

The parents are working so hard to make sure there is a roof over heads of their children along with food on the table that they can’t spend the time on themselves.

The St. William parish was offering English (ESL) classes to parishioners during the week and on Saturdays. Problems arose because people weren’t able to attend on a regular basis because of their work schedules. Funding also became a problem. There were insufficient funds to provide salaries for the English instructors. St. William had to discontinue the classes. The parish understands the importance of learning English, but without the needed funding it’s not possible.

Sister Rachel sees another issue. “They have a double challenge. The American culture is so different from theirs.”

Two parishioners hugged before Mass began.

They not only have to understand English, but they also have to absorb the culture.

Sister Rachel said Latino people tend to be very affectionate. If there’s a new arrival to the church or neighborhood, they are always welcomed like an old friend. To them Americans seem distant.

Sister Rachel arrived at St. William 12 years ago. When the Latino community started to enter the Olney neighborhood she went knocking on their doors. Any house she saw where someone with a Latino name lived she approached to invite them to the parish.

Sister Rachel knew they would be afraid to come on their own and they were happy to have someone who spoke Spanish. Sister Rachel learned Spanish after living in Lima, Peru for seven years teaching at an all-boys elementary Catholic school.

Sister Rachel found a little time to work on her book about mass written in Spanish for the Latino parishioners.

She said, “I always say, dear Lord, take care of these poor people. I think he does. They’re not discouraged.”

Sister Rachel said, “They smile and they don’t look dejected. Why for so many years these people have been here. They risk their lives. Sometimes they are deported. That is so criminal.”

Sister Rachel said she wishes they could become legal on the grounds of good behavior and not be deported on the basis of paperwork.

Jesús Ortís is a Peruvian, who arrived in the U.S. in 1983. He is a parishioner and an usher at St. William. He said he owes his personal success to the church. Without the support of the church he said he wouldn’t be where he is today with a good job and a happy, health family.

Sister Rachel and Jesús discussed some plans for Mass.

He said he doesn’t think people know, “How important the Lord is for each person.” He’s also concerned that the young people don’t understand the importance of faith and the church.

He works hard, but he makes it a point to attend Mass every Sunday out of respect for the parish and as an example for others.

St. William would like to expand its services to the Latino community. Visit the website here.

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