Co-worker of Lourdes Garza shares tributes following death of beloved Hispanic Ministries director
By Blanca Primm
Maria de Lourdes Garza is a woman whose presence is still felt among us even though she has left us to rejoice at the celestial banquet. What a battle you fought, friend and sister!
Yes, you fought the battle against cancer, but most importantly, you fought the good fight in the army of the Lord. For more than 10 years we shared joys, hard work, dreams, challenges, projects, triumphs and disappointments, but always with the awareness that our work was a calling from God, and a mission that cannot be stopped; in your words: “to make it so that the most important thing is the most important. And the most important thing is to bring others to Jesus.”
Your faith, your love for the Lord, your strength and your confidence in His providence were an example to me. You labored for the growth of His Kingdom, even to your own exhaustion. You were able to say, in the words of St. Paul, “when I am weak is when I am strong,” because you were sustained by the grace of God and by the loving care of our Mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose medallion you always wore on your chest with much pride.
You knew how to touch the lives of everyone you met, and you were proud of your Catholic, Hispanic, and specifically Mexican heritage, which you never hesitated to put forth as a bridge in order to unite the Spanish-speaking and English-speaking cultures, living out the same faith in God but expressing it in different ways. There was no time to waste, we had to blaze the trail, knock on doors, break down walls, act as bridges, and serve our Hispanic brothers and sisters, immigrants like us, who hoped for a chance to know God and become committed to Him and spread His good news in our Diocese of Knoxville.
I would like to share a little bit of what you helped build for the Lord, in the words of your brothers and sisters in Christ:
■ “The day I was introduced to Lourdes Garza, without knowing me, she proposed that I begin an ambitious project of Bible study that resulted in the Catholic Bible School, sponsored by the Catholic Extension Society, the University of Dallas, and the Hispanic Ministry Office in the Diocese of Knoxville. In 2015, she started and led the Hispanic Bible Institute, with the goal of continuing to give assistance to the numerous Bible-study groups that were organized throughout the diocese. She loved the Word of God, and she wanted her people to know it deeply so that they could draw closer to God. She used to say that this was her way of caring for the souls with which she was entrusted.” — Elena Morales, St. John Neumann Parish, Farragut.
■ “For many years I observed and experienced her ministry, her vision and her giving of herself to the immigrant community, which motivated me to learn and develop within myself the social doctrine of the Catholic Church. Thanks to her, I became involved in the Justice for Immigrants program. She brought another dimension to the Hispanic Catholic ministry in our diocese. The best teaching I received from her is that in life it is always better to give than to receive.” — Jose Luis Santiago, Holy Ghost Parish, Knoxville.
■ “Lourdes was a fundamental help and a pioneer for youth in the Diocese of Knoxville because she saw the need of many youth to know God and become friends with Him. She was one of the people that helped many youth to change their lives, to value what we have, to see ourselves as equals, and to always put God first, seeing Him reflected in the neediest. She always accompanied us, saying, ‘I am like a second mother to you all.’ We participated with her in the CRS Food Fast, a 24-hours-of-fasting event from Catholic Relief Services, which involved not only abstaining from eating, but also collecting thousands of dollars to help the neediest people in places such as Bethlehem, Guatemala, Honduras, and Niger. She also helped us participate in writing the Easter Book of the Southeastern Pastoral Institute (SEPI). We will always remember her for transmitting to us a new vision and tracing a new horizon for all youth inside and outside the diocese.” — Mario Merida, former member of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, Lenoir City
■ “Thanks to the vision and dream of Lourdes Garza, with the help of Marian Christiana (diocesan coordinator of the Office of Marriage Preparation and Enrichment), more than 150 couples have experienced a Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend in our diocese. Bringing this ministry to Knoxville has been a blessing for the couples that attend a weekend and all the members of their families.” — Fermín and Ana Cabrera, diocesan Spanish-language Worldwide Marriage Encounter coordinators and parishioners of St. Stephen Church, Chattanooga
■ “Lourdes, if I had to define you in words, which words should I use to describe you? Leader, loyal, honest, unique, unconditional, strong, direct, unstoppable, resilient, profound, committed, determined, daring, devout, effective, enterprising, enthusiastic, sincere, selfless, successful, serving, fellow traveler, unequalled, unforgettable. Thanks Lourdes!” — Jeannine Fort, Knoxville
■ “‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…I am going to prepare a place for you’ (John 14, 1-2). She has been a great blessing for our diocese, our Hispanic community, and our Congregation of Missionaries since we were part of the work that Lourdes carried out in the Hispanic ministry. Thank you, Lourdes, for your great work because ‘you have competed well, you have finished the race, and now the crown of righteousness awaits you’ (2 Timothy 4, 7).” — Sister Carmen Lina Ramos, MAG, Five Rivers Deanery
■ “Not long ago, we were in our senators’ offices in Washington, D.C., advocating on behalf of unaccompanied minors, explaining that the intention of these children, coming from countries in Central America, was not to work or even study, but to save their own lives! It was a humanitarian issue — every child in the world deserves an opportunity.
“Like everyone in the Catholic Church, she (Lourdes) was always concerned about the separation of families due to their legal status, and she worked in order for immigrants to be treated with dignity and respect.” — Alma Vásquez, Office of Immigrant Services, Catholic Charities of East Tennessee
■ “I am grateful to Lourdes for giving me the opportunity to get involved more in catechesis and giving me the position to be a voice for the importance of protecting the children of God against abuse in our community.” — Isidora Sánchez, All Saints Church, Knoxville, and Virtus program facilitator
■ “She always cared greatly for the unity of the different Latino organizations in Knoxville. For her great contributions, she received various recognitions, such as the HoLa ‘Unity in the Community’ award, and the first Latino Spirit of Inspiration Award from Centro Hispano. With the decline in her health, Lourdes distinguished herself not only by her intelligence but also by her strength and faith. She demonstrated her humanity and her ability to forgive. A great communicator, one of her last messages in Facebook was that we should read La Cosecha. We will miss your monthly column, but we have the certainty that you will continue caring for us ‘from your window’ in heaven. For all this and much more…thanks.” — Coral Getino, cofounder of HoLa and parishioner at All Saints Church, Knoxville
■ “Lourdes sent me to a training session in Florida, together with my friend Rosie Noriega, in December 2015, which resulted in the Abriendo Puertas – Opening Doors project, a training workshop for Hispanic parents to motivate them and teach them to get involved in their children’s education in order to help ensure their success in school and better their physical and mental health. Lourdes always had indescribable energy, with an immense concern for improving and increasing the spiritual and cultural knowledge of Hispanics as well as family values.” — Zulay Navarro-Pickering, Virtus facilitator and Abriendo Puertas program instructor
■ “Lourdes was a warrior in her fight to persevere until the end, and a woman of great faith who always wanted to unite all cultures. She had unconditional love for the Virgin of Guadalupe and the rosary.” — Alicia Mora, St. Joseph the Worker Church, Madisonville
Lourdes, I will no longer see your car outside the office late at night, like in the old days, but your memory and example will remain alive in my mind and my heart, and certainly in those of the hundreds of people whose lives you touched in your journey toward the finish line you so longed for. ■
Blanca Primm is the administrative assistant in the Diocese of Knoxville’s Office of Hispanic Ministry.