COLUMBIA — Motorists traveling down Polo Road on the morning of Oct. 21 saw a procession of people dressed in brightly colored clothing, singing a hymn to the Virgin Mary in Spanish and carrying flags that whipped in the wind.
It was the opening of the annual Diocese of Charleston Hispanic Heritage Celebration, held at St. John Neumann Church.
The event drew an estimated 650 people from around the state. They came together to worship, sing and celebrate the diversity and rich Catholic faith of the growing Hispanic community.
Shortly after 10 a.m., the procession began in the back parking lot of the church, headed down a short stretch of Polo Road, and then into the front entrance of the church.
Many people were dressed in the traditional clothing of Latin American countries and carried flags of those nations. In many cases, they also carried an icon or picture of a saint or apparition of Mary associated with those countries.
Four men carried a large statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of Mexico, on their shoulders. Musicians playing guitars and violins led the crowd in singing the hymn “Santa Maria del Camino” as they walked along. More than 200 people who gathered for the Mass followed behind.
Bishop Robert J. Baker celebrated a Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He spoke to the gathering about Mary’s importance and reflected on the reading from the Gospel of Luke selected for the Mass which described her visit to Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-46).
The bishop said the Gospel reading highlighted many of Mary’s special qualities, including her unselfishness, her unfailing stewardship for God and her faith.
“We recognize in her a true and compassionate role model for stewardship of the gifts God grants for each of us,” Bishop Baker said. “… Following her example of so noble a mother, we also seek to place our lives in the service of our Lord through assisting others.”
The bishop described devotion to Mary as “heartfelt and deeply woven into lives of all Hispanic people.” He recounted her many names in Hispanic culture, including Our Lady of Guada-lupe and Our Lady of the Rosary.
Bishop Baker praised the Hispanic community for its dedication to the Catholic faith.
“As your bishop I am proud of the contributions of our Hispanic community to our Catholic life here in the Diocese of Charleston … ,” he said. “The example of dedication, integrity and humility that characterizes your faith inspires us all to renewed devotion to Our Lord and Our Lady. I thank Our Lord for your zeal and attachment to the faith and your commitment to maintaining your Catholic heritage with joy and love.”
After the Mass, the congregation of approximately 550 in the church joined another 100 people at St. John Neumann School for a meal of traditional foods and music and dancing from countries represented in the state’s Hispanic community, including Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica.
One of the day’s highlights was the recognition of people who have shown dedication to the Hispanic Catholic community. Those honored were:
• The Rev. Msgr. Charles H. Rowland, former pastor of St. Joseph Church in Columbia and current pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel on Folly Beach. Msgr. Rowland was recognized for welcoming Hispanics into the parish community and for his work in establishing programs for Hispanics during his 15 years at St. Joseph. Also, he was chosen to represent the work of all non-Hispanic priests in the diocese.
• Janet Hayden, who volunteers at St. John of the Cross Church in Batesburg, which has a large number of Hispanic parishioners. Hayden’s recognition was also meant to represent the work of all non-Hispanic lay people in the diocese who help Hispanic Catholics, according to Father Filemon Juya, vicar of Hispanic Ministry.
• Emilia Vera, an immigrant from Colombia and member of St. Anne Church in Rock Hill. Vera volunteers in helping needy members of the Hispanic community in the Rock Hill area, and was chosen to represent the work of Hispanic immigrants who help new immigrants in the diocese.
• Paccual Toledo, a native Mayan from Guatemala and resident of Greenville. Toledo speaks the Mayan language and learned Spanish after he came to the United States. Father Juya said Toledo spends much of his free time translating for Mayan immigrants and teaching them about Catholicism. Toledo is a member of St. Mary Church in Greenville and also works in Blessed Trinity Parish in Greer.
• Benito and Milka Caraballo and their children David, Bernadette, Karen and Hector are immigrants from Puerto Rico who live in Swansea and attend St. John Neumann Church. David, 19, recently went through a heart transplant. The family has been receiving support from the Hispanic community and was chosen to represent the commitment of Hispanic families to the Catholic faith.