Hispanic Catholics Celebrate Faith in Harmony

Hispanic Catholics gather at the D.C. Armory to honor their religion in a weekend-long event that featured prayer, song and other forms of worship.
Hispanic Catholics gather at the D.C. Armory to honor their religion in a weekend-long event that featured prayer, song and other forms of worship. (Photos By Michael Robinson-chavez -- The Washington Post)

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By Mary Otto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sister Olga Lucia Parado had the crowd of thousands moving. Long habit swaying to the beat of the drums, she belted out a lively cumbia and cried Aleluya !

And why not?

"God made the salsa," said Manuel Aviles, looking on yesterday at the swaying throngs in the D.C. Armory. "God made the merengue."

A vast, weekend-long revival and celebration of faith was expected to draw 10,000 Hispanic Catholics to the Washington region's second Encuentro Catolico to sing and pray, weep and dance.

Yesterday, there were rosaries and electric guitars, incense and drums, priests clapping and laborers forgetting their cares as the revival unfolded.

The excitement of the preachers and drummers seemed akin to evangelical and Pentecostal styles of worship that, in recent years, have attracted many Hispanics away from their 500-year-old Catholic traditions. But Catholics too have started to embrace a more charismatic approach, especially in places such as the metro area, where thanks to immigration, the Hispanic population is estimated at more than 575,000 -- although many believe the number is much higher.

It's not competition for souls, said the Rev. Jose Eugenio Hoyos, director of the Spanish Apostolate for the Diocese of Arlington.

"We can't compete for the love of God," he said. This style of worship is "an expression through music to show God is alive."

That is why Ecuadorean-born Ligia Pasquel said she came yesterday -- to bask in the music and the comfort of faith. Immigration can be lonely, said Pasquel, who lives in Silver Spring. Life as a house-cleaner can be hard.

Yet, she added, "God is all the time in my life."

"There is a lot of healing," agreed Jose Morris Gutierrez, a Salvadoran-born plumber, leading his 5-year-old daughter, Belen, by the hand.

He said many in the crowd are struggling.


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