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Hispanics' customs on rise
Arizona Daily Star
By Stephanie Innes

Easter's new look in Tucson

In an area where Hispanics are at 40 percent of the Catholic population and growing, Easter Sunday in Tucson may soon take a back seat to the Latin American traditions of Semana Santa - Holy Week.
"You have to see and feel and experience Holy Week to know how much God loves you," said José Jimenez, 25, who spent four hours each day of last week at the rigorous "Pascua Juvenil" Easter youth program at St. Monica's Catholic Church, 212 W. Medina Road.
Pascua Juvenil is one of many local Semana Santa traditions imported from Latin America by Hispanics, who are now the largest ethnic group in the United States and have accounted for 71 percent of the U.S. Catholic Church's growth since 1960. With such steep Hispanic population growth, colorful and emotional Latin American religious traditions are having an increased influence in the United States.
About 140,000 of the Diocese of Tucson's 350,000 Catholics - 40 percent - are Hispanic. As the Hispanic ranks continue to grow, the Catholic Church is anticipating changes, like incorporating Hispanic customs into more churches.
"I think the changes are already taking place. There is a significant crossover going on," said Timothy Matovina, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame and director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism. "The kind of vivacity of Catholic rituals and devotions I think will increase because of the Hispanic presence, the pageantry. They have very involved, engaged processions and a lot of non-Hispanics are very attracted to this."
"It gives me chills"
Jimenez's week culminated with a 16-hour day at church along with 55 other Pascua Juvenil participants on Holy Saturday. This year was Jimenez's seventh in the program, which is conducted entirely in Spanish.
"It's been very hard work," said Jimenez, who balanced Holy Week duties with a full-time job at a local construction company. "You see in the faces of the kids who come, a lot of them are frowning. But once they get into the prayer and connect to God, it's hard to explain, but they completely change."
Jimenez and his family, who moved to Tucson from Nogales, Sonora, have continued with the Holy Week customs they grew up with in Mexico. Those traditions include Pésame - a Good Friday service when parishioners console Mary for losing her son, Jesus; Good Friday processions of the cross with re-enactments; and the Siete Palabras - a recitation of Christ's last words as he hung on the cross.
"It's not just a question of being inside the church, we do the Stations of the Cross through the barrios," said the Rev. Gilbert Levario, pastor of the predominantly Hispanic Santa Cruz Catholic Church, 1220 S. Sixth Ave. "They bring in their own style of faith, especially in the devotional aspect. It brings in the whole person."
Petra Meza, 32, a parishioner at St. Monica's, lived in Mexico until she was 15 and remembers Holy Week as so sacred and sober that her mother would not allow her to turn on the television or go out with friends - far different from the culture of Easter bunnies and chocolate she found after moving to Tucson.
"In Mexico on Good Friday the condolences to Mary are so important. It's very moving," Meza said. "They put a statue of Mary in a black dress and pray the rosary and share sorrow that her son died. The older ladies will offer incense, the young women offer perfume to Mary, the men give palms, and the children give flowers."
Meza now helps out with the Pascua Juvenil at St. Monica's. Celebrants on Good Friday joined in a procession of the cross and recited the last seven expressions of Jesus before his death, called Siete Palabras, or the Seven Words of Jesus on the Cross. The first expression is, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do," from the Gospel of Luke and the last, seventh expression, also from the Gospel of Luke, is, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."
"It gives me chills just to think about it," Jimenez said.
Hispanics typically place more emphasis on the three days of Holy Week called the Paschal Triduum - Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday - than on Easter Sunday itself.
"Unlike Anglos, many more Hispanics are in church on Good Friday and fewer on Easter Sunday. You will see huge crowds on Good Friday," said Matovina.
Matovina said North American Catholics are more likely to see Easter as a celebration of God's victory over sin and death, while Hispanics identify more with Jesus and see God as someone who suffers with us.
"There are deep cultural reasons that North Americans are more attracted to Easter Sunday," Matovina said. "I don't know why there's all the talk about Mel Gibson's 'Passion' - Hispanics have acted out the Passion for years now, often graphically. In just about every country in Latin America there is acting out of Jesus' crucifixion."
"Vivid and impacting"
Pésame on Good Friday is one of the most moving services of Semana Santa, said Ruben Davalos, director of evangelization and Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Tucson, who compares the service to a wake.
"Especially in families that have lost someone, particularly an eldest son. It is very vivid and impacting," Davalos said. "All day on Thursday and Friday most of the time, it seems windy and overcast and people are in mourning.
"They bring an inborn faith in the spirit of popular piety and religiosity."
One of the most visible local examples of Mexican Holy Week pageantry is performed by the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, which was formed in the early1900s from Yaqui refugees who had fled political persecution in Mexico.
Pascua is Spanish for Easter, underlining the importance of the holiday for tribal members, who blend their prominent American Indian deer dancer symbol with Mexican Catholic traditions throughout Semana Santa. Like people in Spanish-speaking countries around the world, they burn an effigy of Judas the betrayer on Holy Saturday and hold an all-night vigil between Holy Saturday and Resurrection Sunday.
Yaqui Easter ceremonies in Tucson communities end at midday today, when flowers will be prominent as a symbol of good triumphing over evil. The Yaquis believe flowers grew from the blood that Jesus spilled when he was crucified. In Spanish, Easter is often called "Pascua Florida," which roughly translates into "Festival of Flowers."
Meeting needs of Hispanics
The American Catholic Church is now trying to catch up with meeting the needs of its Hispanic parishioners and curb a steady stream of defections to Protestantism. If the Catholic Church is able to retain its Hispanic worshippers, then by 2020 Hispanics will be the majority of American Catholics, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
While Hispanics comprise 39 percent of U.S. Catholics, they represent just 6.3 percent of the country's 46,000 priests. The Diocese of Tucson is trying to attract more Spanish-speaking clergy, exemplified last year when all five of the new priests ordained in the diocese were men from Mexico.
"Every parish in the diocese has a Hispanic presence. Some parishes are 90 percent," Dava- los said.
The Rev. Raúl Valencia García, associate pastor at St. Monica's, was one of the five Mexican men ordained by the local diocese last year. He grew up in Mexico andentered the priesthood after a career as a dentist in Nogales, Sonora. St. Monica's added another Mexican tradition to Holy Week this year, Valencia García said, by not starting its Holy Saturday vigil until 11:30 p.m.
"It is so that we can celebrate the death and the resurrection. This is really different, not so common in the United States," Valencia García said.
Reggie Diaz, 27, a St. Monica's parishioner who works in a loan office and volunteers for the Pascua Juvenil, fears the vibrant traditions of Semana Santa will be diluted and lost without continued education of the children of Latin American immigrants.
"Not enough Catholic teachers in the United States speak Spanish," said Diaz, who is bilingual. "The English-speaking theologians are very knowledgeable. We need some more who speak Spanish because our traditions are different and important. Our faith is rooted in believing in Christ first, and Good Friday is the day Jesus took all sin and we remember he died for us. There is so much beauty in it."
In parts of Mexico, Semana Santa today will turn into a second weeklong celebration called Pascua. Like other Christians, faithful Hispanics look forward to Resurrection Sunday as a release from their Lenten sacrifices and a symbol of the renewal of spring.
"It's a continuation of the gift given to us of eternal life in heaven," said George Rodriguez, 62, a deacon at Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Church, 1800 S. Kolb. "We should actually be celebrating it every day of the year."
Rodriguez believes Hispanics have a deep-seated faith they will continue to bring into worship, even through generations in the United States.
"Gracias a Dios - thanks be to God. It's ingrained in the Hispanic person."
° Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or at sinnes@azstarnet.com.

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