Guatemalan visitors encourage immigrants to keep their faith and culture


Staff reporter

 WILMINGTON — A Solidarity Partnership has linked Catholics in the dioceses of San Marcos, Guatemala, and Wilmington since 2003. That connection was renewed when a Guatemalan priest and sister nine days here at the end of April and said the Catholic communities are more alike than people might think.

“The two dioceses share pastoral and social ministries. We have different realities, but we share our ministries,” said Sister Bernarda Rojas, director of diocesan social ministry in San Marcos.

While visiting several schools and parishes from April 20 to 29, she and Father Silverio Chun, pastor of San Jose Parish in El Rodeo, shared their lives and the life of their communities.

Father Silverio Chun, visiting from San Marcos, Guatemala talks to students at Padua Academy, April 26. The Dialog/

“This partnership has also helped economically with some education programs, health programs, a migration house, formation of catechists, helping our formation center,” Sister Bernarda said.

Brother Chris Posch, a Franciscan priest who is the diocesan director of Hispanic Ministry, accompanied the two Guatemalans for much of their stay and translated for them.

Several diocesan schools have raised money for various projects in San Marcos, including St. Ann’s School, which has contributed to a water project and scholarships. The Guatemalan delegation visited Christ the Teacher and Our Lady of Fatima last month, and both schools asked how they could help. St. Mark’s and St. Elizabeth high schools each donated money this year.

Father Chun and Sister Bernarda spent time with Guatemalans and other Latinos at Delaware Park, in Sussex County and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Father Chun said those meetings were among the highlights of the nine days.

“It’s been a wonderful experience because aside from celebrating the Eucharist, we’ve also had a conference where we talked about our lives and our realities in Guatemala,” the priest said.

“The Guatemalans and Hispanics here talk about their lives here, both the good things and the difficulties. One hope is to animate, encourage and strengthen the Guatemalans and Hispanics that are here.”

One of the good things, he continued, “is the people haven’t lost the faith they brought here from Guatemala, and also the feeling of community. They may not come from the same community in Guatemala, but they are able to maintain the unity, and that’s a great thing.”

A challenge, the priest and sister said, was that Guatemalans and other Hispanics who spend an extended period of time in the United States tend to lose some of their culture.

One of the objectives of the recent visit was to help keep local immigrants and migrant workers connected to their home culture. “It’s natural,” that some of that would dissipate after an extended time away from one’s native land, Father Chun said.

“Some of the negative parts of the culture are infiltrating their lives,” he said. He has encouraged them “not to lose their culture, not to lose their faith.”

In addition, while many of the adults feel a strong attachment to their home countries, their children have a different experience. Many of the youth were born in the United States or have been raised here and like their lives, Father Chun said.

Complicating things, Sister Bernarda added, is that the children are, in many cases, legal residents of the United States, while the parents are not.

Another concern is keeping families together when the parents are in the United States working and their children are back in Guatemala.

The nine-day visit, however, was overwhelmingly positive, they said. Sister Bernarda said the two had run into people related to friends of theirs in Guatemala and have been asked to pass along messages upon their return. A 6-year-old girl at St. Elizabeth Elementary School recognized Sister Bernarda during a visit to the school on April 26.

“She got up and ran to me and gave me a big hug. She spoke to me in Spanish,” the nun said.