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Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates faith, traditions, culture and values

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Edith Lemus, native of Chalatenango, El Salvador, displays chiles rellenos, a typical Mexican dish, at a Sept. 18, 2021 Hispanic Heritage Month event at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Edgewater. (Priscila González de Doran/CR Staff)

EDGEWATER — After a Mass in Spanish, children and adults processed from the church to the hall, dressed in traditional costumes and holding flags from different Latin American countries. The smell of hand-made pupusas, along with songs of mariachi and marimba, and decorations with vibrant colors, all made the 180 members of the Hispanic community at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Edgewater feel back at home Sept. 18, after a year and a half of social distancing and no gatherings.

“The Hispanic ministry at church feels like family,” said Jesus Urrutia, choking up as he spoke. “It fills me up with incredible joy to see them all happy and together.”

Urrutia, a native of Puerto de la Libertad, El Salvador, and his wife, Enma Palma, a native of Comayagua, Honduras, are leaders of the life in community committee and parishioners for 10 years of OLPH.

“In a country of cultures, we want to teach our kids about our roots and customs,” he said. “There is so much within the Hispanic culture.”

Father Gonzalo Cadavid-Rivera, associate pastor of OLPH and Our Lady of Sorrows in West River, said during his homily for the Mass, “Our Hispanic heritage is in the love and values of family.”

“The importance we give to family is a big part of our Hispanic heritage; families sitting together at the dining table for homemade dinner, taking time to enjoy the smell and taste of a good coffee from Guatemala. This is what we cannot ever lose,” he said.

A native of Medellin, Colombia, Father Cadavid-Rivera is the first Latino priest to enter Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg. He hopes the Sept. 18 event will ensure Hispanic families once again after the pandemic are welcomed into the parish.

Marta Villator, a native of Chalatenango, El Salvador, and Antonia Coto, a native of Nueva Concepción, El Salvador, prepare handmade pupusas at a Sept. 18, 2021 Hispanic Heritage Month event at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Edgewater. (Priscila González de Doran/CR Staff)

National Hispanic Heritage Month, first observed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988, begins Sept. 15 and ends Oct. 15. It’s a time when the American government invites all to celebrate the contributions, cultures and history of those with ancestry from Spain, Mexico, Caribbean, Central and South America. 

The dates selected are inspired in the independence anniversaries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua Sept. 15; Mexico Sept. 16; Chile Sept. 18; Virgin Islands-Puerto Rico Friendship day celebrated the second Monday of October, this year Oct. 11; and Columbus Day Oct. 12. People whose origins come from Spanish-speaking countries, especially Latin America, are those considered Hispanic.

“I think celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with events such as this one helps to keep the celebration of cultures alive and pass the tradition to younger generations,” said Justin Noel, a parishioner of St. Mary in Annapolis.

Hispanic parishioners noted that Father Richard Gray, pastor of OLPH and OLS, introduces himself as “Padre Ricardo” to Hispanic families, as a way to welcome and make them feel they belong to the parish.

During the Sept. 18 event, 400 people showed up to buy Hispanic foods representing different ethnicities and parishes. Funds raised were used to benefit OLPH.

When the flags of Latin American countries commemorating their independence were displayed, Sister for Christian Community Kass Collins, pastoral associate of OLPH, asked Hispanic parishioners, “Why would you display the American flag?” They said it was in gratitude to American citizens and parishioners for a warm welcome to this country and to acknowledge that relationship.   

“To be able to serve at church and to our Hispanic community is the best gift,” Urrutia said.

Email Priscila González de Doran at pdoran@CatholicReview.org

Note: This story was updated on Sept. 21, 2021 at 12:56 p.m. to correct the spelling of Jesus Urrutia’s name.

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