St. John Paul II community strong in faith despite limited resources
By Omar Cabrera
When Esperanza and her husband, Miguel, decided to prepare for confirmation, they ran into an obstacle.
The parish they attend offers classes for this sacrament only on weekdays at 7 p.m. It’s an impossible schedule for Miguel, who works until 11 p.m. Therefore, the couple looked for an alternative.
A 40-minute drive from where they live, driving through the hills of East Tennessee, a Glenmary mission offered preparation classes on Sunday afternoons. So, Miguel, Esperanza, and two of their children ended up receiving catechism at St. John Paul II Catholic Mission in Rutledge.
The family was among the 28 people—all Hispanic—who received the sacraments of initiation into St. John Paul II at the 2023 Easter Vigil.
While other Catholic parishes in the United States have seen their number of parishioners shrink, this Glenmary mission maintains a growth trend and dedicated its new church in the summer of 2022, constituting a sign of hope for the Catholic faith.
“I believe that God is doing the work in our community,” says Clarisa Chavarría, who taught the catechism classes at St. John Paul II. She works as a pastoral associate with Father Neil Pezzulo, the Glenmary pastor of St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Kolkata, another Glenmary mission church located just over 30 minutes away by car in neighboring Union County.
Ms. Chavarría noted that several of the people who received the sacraments at the vigil are of limited economic resources. The parents of these young people, for the most part, “have attended up to second grade.”
Miguel, for example, emigrated by land from Guatemala to the United States when he was 17 years old. Esperanza came from Mexico at the age of 13 in similar conditions. She doesn’t know how to read. He knows how to read and studied until third grade.
“I got to fourth grade, but I didn’t continue because I had to work,” remembers Miguel, who is originally from a community where the indigenous Chuj language is spoken, which means that Spanish is his second language.
Miguel and Esperanza began to meet when they both worked at a chicken processing plant. “I liked him,” she says. He liked her, too. They began a courtship and sometime later decided to live together.
When they joined their lives, Miguel had already begun falling toward alcoholism. Over time, the behavior led to a relationship crisis. Esperanza remembers that she constantly asked God to help transform her husband. She believes that finally her prayers were answered.
In an unexpected turn, Miguel’s friend who normally invited him out for drinks came to his house one day to invite him to a Catholic retreat. By then, the couple already had two children.
Aware that he had to give up drinking if he didn’t want to lose his family, Miguel agreed to go to the retreat.
This is how his conversion began until 2020, when Esperanza and Miguel were married in the Church, although without being confirmed. Currently, they have four children: Cristian, 15; Angelina, 13; Josabeth, 2; and Yael, 1.
On April 8, Esperanza, Miguel, Cristian, and Angelina received the sacrament of confirmation during the Easter Vigil. Miguel gave one of the readings.
“Our desire is to take Communion, that is, to share the table with the Lord,” Miguel highlighted. Before being confirmed, they could take Communion, but because they did not have their sacraments complete, they decided to wait. Now, they are ready to receive the sacraments.
Father Pezzulo, who serves as administrator of St. John Paul II, emphasizes that carrying the Catholic faith and the sacraments is at the core of Glenmary’s mission.
“We have created a space where they want to be, where they can share faith with their family,” the Glenmary priest said.
He added that many of these people previously have not had access to the sacraments. For that reason, it is important to make them feel “welcome and not judged.”
That is one of the reasons why such a high number of people received the sacraments at this year’s Easter Vigil. “And I love that,” Father Pezzulo says.
This story first appeared on El Reto, the Spanish magazine of the Glenmary Home Missioners.