Immigrants keeping their faith

When Griselda Cortez walks through the doors of the Holy Name Catholic Church, a load lifts off her shoulders. Outside those doors, she is a Mexican and a stranger. She doesn't speak much English and she is still learning the culture of her new home. Life is a daily struggle living thousands of miles from her family in Guadalajara, Jalisco, in Mexico.

But inside the church, where the priest gives a mass in Spanish on the first Monday of every month, she feels comfortable.

"There are no borders in religion," Cortez said. "(During mass) I am living just in that moment."

Father Jose Sáenz follows the religious traditions Cortez knows from Mexico. He knows she and other attendees are far from home and need the comfort of worshipping the way they were taught.

"For me, my religion is where I get my strength," Cortez said. In Mexico, she attended mass every Sunday and the first day of every month. "I'm glad I have a place to (worship) here. You could come to this country and become materialistic and forget that the end could come any day. That's why it's important."

Having a Catholic mass in Spanish is new for the immigrant community in Steamboat.

When Sáenz noticed the growing number of Mexicans and citizens from other Spanish-speaking countries living in Steamboat he searched his calendar for a day and a time when he could make the trip from Craig to lead mass in their language.

"They want to practice the traditions they grew up with," he said. The first time Sáenz held a Spanish mass in Steamboat it was a cold day in December 2004. Twenty-five people came. Since then, the number has grown to 40. A similar Spanish mass has been held weekly in Craig for more than four years.

Sáenz offers the seven Catholic sacraments in Spanish -- baptism, Eucharist, reconciliation, confirmation, marriage, ordination and anointing of the sick.

"A lot of children are already going to school and taking their first communion in English," Sáenz said. "But I encourage parents to teach their children the traditions from Mexico. Their children need to know where their roots are and why the family worships the way they do. Later on, they'll appreciate that culture."

For those Spanish speakers who are not Catholic but still want to worship, Pastor Arturo Villa leads a weekly Baptist service and Bible study in Craig and Steamboat. More than 30 people regularly attend his service in Steamboat, he said. The first time he held a service more than a year ago, only four people came. Villa hung fliers in Spanish at area grocery stores and went door to door inviting Spanish speakers to his church.

To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210 or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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