Herndon Church Adds Mass In Spanish

The Rev. Jose E. Hoyos greets Marcia Zuniga before the first Spanish-language Mass at the church in Herndon. Before Mass, the priest said he would tell St. Joseph worshipers:
The Rev. Jose E. Hoyos greets Marcia Zuniga before the first Spanish-language Mass at the church in Herndon. Before Mass, the priest said he would tell St. Joseph worshipers: "Finally your prayers have been answered by God." (Photos By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

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By Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 24, 2006

In the year and a half since moving from El Salvador to Herndon, Salvador Bonilla has gone to church only when friends could give him a lift to a Catholic parish four miles away in Sterling, the closest place offering Mass in Spanish. Yesterday afternoon, he stood outside St. Joseph Catholic Church in Herndon and predicted his worship schedule would soon become a lot more regular.

St. Joseph's first Spanish-language Mass was about to begin.

"Thanks to God," Bonilla, 24, a soft-spoken construction worker in a crisp, white shirt, said in Spanish.

Church officials said St. Joseph's addition of a Spanish Mass to its busy schedule -- it offers eight English-language Masses on weekends -- is a nod to Herndon's Hispanic population, which nearly quadrupled in the 1990s and makes up more than a quarter of the one-time farm town's 22,000 people.

The rapid demographic change has forced Herndon's schools, neighborhoods and government to adapt quickly, sometimes with difficulty -- the Town Council's controversial decision to help fund a hiring center for immigrant day laborers remains a divisive topic as town elections approach. But until yesterday, Hispanic Catholics in Herndon worshiped in English or, like Bonilla, commuted to Spanish-language Masses at parishes in Reston or Sterling. Some walked an hour to get there.

Spanish Mass in Herndon has "been a dream of mine for a while," said Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde. But with only about 30 Spanish-speaking priests serving 67 parishes in the diocese, arranging it took time, he said. St. Joseph's Spanish Mass will be led by the Rev. Jose E. Hoyos, the popular director of the diocese's Spanish Apostolate, and Richard Mullins, the associate director. Neither of the parish's two full-time priests speaks Spanish.

The new Mass is another piece of the diocese's growing efforts to reach out to Hispanics in an era when more Latinos -- about 70 percent of whom are Catholics -- are choosing Protestant evangelical and Pentecostal churches that actively recruit members. At the same time, the Catholic Church is increasingly dependent on Hispanic immigrants: Church officials attribute 71 percent of its growth in the United States since 1960 to Hispanics.

The Arlington Diocese is one of the nation's fastest-growing, and church leaders credit much of that expansion to Latin American immigrants. The diocese has responded with Spanish-language summer camps, Hispanic culture festivals, social services for immigrants and door-to-door evangelizing. All seminarians must study Spanish. More than half of the diocese's parishes offer Spanish Mass, and several hold them in the charismatic style common in Latin America, complete with maracas and guitars, clapping and shouting.

"We want them to feel comfortable," Loverde said. "We want to say, 'You're part of us already. Come and grow with us.' "

Earlier, the Rev. James Angert, the head priest at St. Joseph, had sounded unsure how many people would show up at yesterday's Mass. He need not have worried: Hundreds of people filled the pews and burst into song as a band heavy on saxophones and tambourines led lively hymns, the music filling St. Joseph's modern sanctuary with new sounds.

Before the service, Hoyos stood outside the church offering greetings in Spanish to people whose faces he knew from other parishes. He said Hispanic residents in Herndon had long asked for their own Spanish Mass. Some, he said, were alarmed by the debate over day laborers and yearned for a nearby church where they could find solace. He told them to be patient and pray, he said.

"That's what I'm going to say in my homily today: 'Finally, your prayers have been answered by God,' " he said.

To spread the word about the Mass, Latino youth group members went door-to-door with fliers, and the diocese ran an ad on a Spanish-language radio station. Angert said he hopes the Mass will attract more Hispanics to the parish, which has more than 11,000 total registered members.

Among the newcomers will be Eliseo Diaz, a 27-year-old who arrived in Herndon two months ago from Mexico, where he led a Catholic youth group. He had longed to celebrate Holy Week and Easter in a church, but, feeling overwhelmed and a bit frightened by his new surroundings, he stayed home. The other day, his roommates handed him a flier that the diocese's door-knocking youths had dropped off. A map from Diaz's house to nearby St. Joseph was drawn in ballpoint on the back.

Diaz followed it to Mass yesterday.

"I think that he who has God in his heart needs to be close to the church," he said in Spanish.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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