Twenty years ago, the missionary priests of St. Vincent de Paul’s congregation, based in Philadelphia, “Congregatio Missionis,” was entrusted an extremely large Latino community spreading throughout the entire East End of Long Island. They serve communities from Montauk all the way to Greenport.
Before the priests of the Vincentian Congregation were sent to the East End, there weren’t any masses in Spanish anywhere in the area.
People would have to go to mass in a language they didn’t understand to be able to practice their faith. Their presence was noted by the bishop, who sent Spanish-speaking priests to start doing masses in Spanish. This motivated the Latino people in the community to continue practicing the faith they brought over from their countries.
“We cannot hide our faith because it is very deeply rooted in our customs and culture,” Jesus Salazar of Guatemala said. He has been serving at Hispanic masses as an usher in the community for 10 years.
The Latino Catholic community encourages people to participate in various spiritual movements that have emerged since gaining such a large following. One example is the very vibrant Catholic Charismatic Renewal, where prayer groups meet and commune to complement what people experience on Sundays at mass.
People can also join a prayer group dedicated to the rosary, Grupo de Rosario. Now, members of the church have choices as to how they would like to participate and live out their faith.
Maribel Robles of Mexico has been serving for about nine years at the youth prayer group, Youth Renovated in Christ. “It has had a very large impact, what has led to this is that our faith is very much centered in our traditions. This defines how we live our faith,” Robles said.
Four priests from the Vincentian congregation have been working with the Hispanic community for several years — Father Stephen M. Grozio from Poland, Marvin Navas from El Salvador, Father Cesar Lara from Mexico and Father Jesus Arellano directly from Spain.
Father Grozio has been continuing his work with the Vincentian priests from Philadelphia. The former parish director of St. Rosalie’s, a parish in Hampton Bays, Father Edward Sheridan, who worked hand-in-hand with the priests from the Latino community, continues his labor for the church from another location as well.
During Father Sheridan’s time at St. Rosalie’s he worked hard for the unification of the Latino and American communities, celebrating important masses bilingually, like Holy Thursday during Easter week. Father Sheridan inspired the Latino community to continue growing.
Fabian Chasi, the leader of Youth Renovated in Christ, was overwhelmed with gratitude. “I am thankful that they gave us the opportunity to live our faith here in our language, it connects us to our home even when we are so far away,” Chasi said.
The impact that this has had on the youth of the East End has also been substantial. “When you first get to this country you tend to lose your way, and make many mistakes, especially if you arrive alone without any family,” Chasi said. “This offers a family and home to those who have left theirs back in their country in search of a better opportunity.