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Home : News : Local
4/17/2012 10:25:00 AM
Parish welcomes the stranger
Catholic Sentinel file photo
Altar servers from the Seaside centennial in 2000: Spencer McEntee, Austin Benton, Ian Gibbs, Rhonda Grundenic-Burke, Linda Villasensor and Juliana Reyes.
Catholic Sentinel file photo
Altar servers from the Seaside centennial in 2000: Spencer McEntee, Austin Benton, Ian Gibbs, Rhonda Grundenic-Burke, Linda Villasensor and Juliana Reyes.
Fr. Nicholas Nilema
Fr. Nicholas Nilema
Ed Langlois
Of the Catholic Sentinel

Many Oregon parishes have taken steps to serve the diverse kinds of Catholics who are arriving. In Seaside, a pastor who himself comes from a distant land worked with parishioners to create a culture of welcoming the stranger.

Father Nicholas Nilema of Our Lady of Victory Parish is from Tanzania, but has learned Spanish. Seaside and Cannon Beach cater to tourists, and many Latino Catholics have come to the area for service jobs in hotels and restaurants.

“I remember coming to this country,” Father Nilema says. “It was culture shock. That helped me see others going through the same thing. Having a welcoming attitude helps new people a lot.”

When he meets Hispanics on the street or in stores, the priest issues personal invitations to Mass. The pastoral council and other committees by design include Latinos. At last July’s dedication of the new church, one of the main musical providers was a mariachi band.

Father Nilema, a direct man, asked Hispanics why he did not see them at Mass. They explained that service jobs require Sunday morning labor. So he consulted people about the best time for worship and began a Tuesday evening Spanish Mass.  More than 100 worshipers attend each week.

Father Nilema holds occasional bilingual liturgies to help people realize the faith they share. “Through the Eucharist we are able to extend ourselves and embrace other cultures,” he says.

Eventually, something unexpected happened. At the early morning Mass in December for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, many Anglos attended. In addition to prayer, they shared in traditional Mexican drinks and pastries. When it came time to build a new church, Hispanic parishioners began holding fundraisers.   

The notion that everyone could be alike in the parish soon evaporated.

“The initial goal of trying to assimilate them into the parish did not really work,” says Chris Rose, chair of the pastoral council in Seaside. “We can’t force them to be like us.”

But the parish has learned that there can be unity without cultural uniformity.

“There is never a distinction between we and they,” says Karen Belding, chair of the administrative council at Our Lady of Victory. “We share a common faith. We each bring different gifts to the table, but our anchor, our core, our center, is the Lord.” Belding says she can’t imagine her parish without the Hispanic community.

“There are cultural things bringing us together and religious things bringing us together,” says Deacon Vern Korchinski, who serves at Seaside.

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