By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Having fled a war and survived as an immigrant in two countries has taught Felipa Valenzuela about family challenges.
The native of Guatemala was one of about 150 people who attended the fourth Encuentro Hispano (Hispanic Encounter) at St. John Paul II Church Sept. 24.
The daylong event, whose theme was “La Familia: Amor y Misericordia” (“The Family: Love and Mercy”), focused on the Year of Mercy and the challenges facing families identified by Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”).
The Encuentro was organized by the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Multicultural Ministry, one of the many ministries supported by the Catholic Services Appeal (CSA).
Valenzuela, a member of the Church of the Annunciation in Shelbyville, Ky., said during an interview at the event that love and mercy “healed” her after her many struggles. The mother of four grown children and a grandmother to 11, said she fled to Mexico in 1981 to escape a war in her native Guatemala. Her faith, instilled by her father and fostered by the love and mercy shown by many, kept her going.
She said the day’s keynote address, delivered by Father Rafael Capó, resonated with her.
Father Capó, director of the Southeast Pastoral Institute, said during his presentation that it is in giving love and mercy within the family that one discovers love and mercy.
To explain his point, he listed five actions that he said were singled out by Pope Francis in his 2013 apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”).
- Take the first step — Because God took the initiative to love us first, we have the responsibility to love, too, Father Capó told his listeners.
- Be involved — Father Capó shared the story of the Good Samaritan, who “took the initiative to engage in actions of love and mercy.”
“How do we do this within our family?” he asked participants. Each member of a family must do their part to make the whole function, he said.
- Be supportive — Parents should be supportive of their children as they learn to show love and mercy, said Father Capó.
- Bear fruit — Parents not only give life to their children through birth, but also through the care they take in raising the whole person, he said.
- Rejoice — Rejoicing, he said, is a celebration of life in which one bears witness to God’s love and mercy.
Valenzuela said she’s looking forward to putting those five actions into practice and continuing to teach her grandchildren the Catholic faith. She noted that she’s attended the past three Encuentros and always leaves feeling like she learned a great deal.
The Encuentro also included Mass with Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz and about a dozen workshops. Father Ismael Hernández, associate pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in La Grange, Ky., gave one of the first workshops of the day on “The Family: Reality, Challenges and Vocation.” Father Hernández is a priest of the Diocese of León, Mexico, serving here in the Archdiocese of Louisville.
He discussed several issues the Holy Father addresses in “The Joy of Love,” primarily the challenges facing families. Father Hernandez talked about the family as the “domestic church” — a place where the first lessons of love and mercy should be imparted. Parents, he said, should be their children’s first teachers and catechists.
In many cases, he said, outside stresses have led to addictions and violence within the family. These things keep the family from functioning.
Yet, Father Hernandez told his listeners, all is not lost. He reminded the gathering that the Holy Family faced challenges, as well. He urged participants to keep the Holy Family as a role model. “This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect,” he said, adding, each family has the capacity to be like the Holy Family.
Tita Velez, a native of Mexico who attends St. Rita Church, said Father Hernandez’s session served as a “refresher to those things we already know.”
It helped her to reflect on her life as a wife and mother, she said.
“It’s like a guide needed to confront the challenges we face in the modern world,” said Velez.