By PAUL A. BARRA
SUMTER — Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of the Americas. A feast day celebration at St. Jude Church in Sumter on Dec. 15 demonstrated just how diverse a constituency is under the protection of the famous 1531 Mexican apparition.
St. Jude’s was filled with worshipers from an array of ethnic backgrounds — whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians. Each carried a single red rose, which he or she placed at the statue of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe after processing in behind it. The special Mass was celebrated in English and Spanish, as befits a parish that is noted for its multiculturalism.
“It amazed me when I came here in 1982, and it amazed my Methodist neighbor, who is black,” said parishioner Jon Wood. “This is the only church in Sumter where the races mix like this.”
St. Jude’s started life as a mission church for black Catholics and has evolved into a thriving parish of many national backgrounds. Even the Hispanic population includes Puerto Ricans, Salvadorans and others, in addition to the predominantly Mexican migrant workers. Sinok Winter, a Korean, finds the parish amenable to her faith needs.
“The people here are friendly, and the parish offers lots of programs and youth activities,” she said.
Part of the reason for the population mix is the presence of nearby Shaw Air Force Base, which accounts for some of the Vietnamese parishioners and others of Oriental background. Another part of it is the active Hispanic ministry, which is spearheaded by Alice Ingram. The parish monthly celebrates Spanish-language Masses and has an outreach program to supplement the liturgies.
The Hispanic ministry started in 1991 when three Sumter women traveled to Summerton to assist the inculturalization of migrant workers there. “The three queens,” Ingram, Carmen Vergara and Donna Follin, moved their efforts to Sumter itself in 1993 and then became an official ministry of St. Jude in 1995. Redemptorist Father Michael Varady is the pastor and an avid supporter of the ministry and of the multicultural identity of the church, Ingram said.
“When Father Mike heard about us, he made us part of the official parish,” she said. “We have a monthly collection, which we distribute to the (migrant) camps in the summer.”
Mariel Ferrell and Yasmine Paggi were part of the special Dec. 15 Our Lady of Guadalupe liturgy, translating the readings and even Father Varady’s homily into Spanish. They know why the parish succeeds as a multicultural entity.
“The people are warm,” Ferrell said. “The parish is friendly and welcoming,” Paggi said.
That combination resulted in a packed church of diverse Americans for the annual Our Lady of Guadalupe fiesta.