SALEM — A new mission to Hispanic Catholics on the east side of Salem is expanding fast. The first Mass, held on the Feast of Epiphany, attracted 100 worshipers. The next liturgy drew 160.
"It's rolling," says Father Todd Molinari, pastor of St. Joseph Parish. He has been charged with establishing the mission, which now holds Mass Sunday mornings in the chapel at Blanchet Catholic School.
Currently, there is no Catholic parish east of I-5 in Salem. Guided by the call of Pope Francis to reach out to the peripheries, Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample and Father Jim Coleman, vicar for Hispanic Ministries, decided to open a mission in the area. They called on Father Molinari, whose parish has 10 weekend Masses, three of them in Spanish. But when Salem cut weekend bus service a few years ago, some residents of east Salem could no longer get into town for Mass.
With the mission, Spanish Mass has hit prime time. The 9:30 a.m. liturgy is the only Sunday morning Mass in Spanish in the Salem area. Others are on Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon.
"It's very exciting," says Father Molinari, who went to Mexico to learn Spanish after returning from seminary in Rome.
Members of the St. Joseph choir come to the mission Mass, as does Deacon Leo Rasca. The mission is three miles east of St. Joseph.
The mission is one part of the archbishop's plan to make Mass in Spanish more available. New liturgies have begun at St. Henry in Gresham and St. John the Apostle in Oregon City and are set to start in Wilsonville.
The East Lancaster neighborhood is heavily Hispanic. Blanchet's Chapel of Saint Patrick is named in honor of the late Msgr. Charles Patrick Taaffe, who served on Blanchet's board of directors. In addition to serving as a pastor, Msgr. Taaffe began Salem-area homes for unwed mothers.
The chapel holds 80 to 100 people and has overflowed during Spanish Masses. The liturgies may need to move to the gym. Most worshipers are from the neighborhood and walk to the Mass.
Tony Guevara, president of Blanchet School, was glad to agree to the Spanish Mass. He has noted an uptick in Hispanic students enrolled at Blanchet, in part because of an effort that smooths a path for Latinos from St. Vincent de Paul grade school nearby.
Guevara hopes that if a parish is opened, it is close to Blanchet, which is centrally located in the district.
Blanchet religion classes and campus ministry occupy the chapel during the week. Since 2010, the local Greek Orthodox community has used it for divine liturgy.
The Orthodox group cheerfully gave up the space twice per month, instead holding liturgy in the school library on those days. Greg Volz, a member of the Orthodox group of 20 to 40 worshipers, says no one resents the move. And it may be temporary. Because of rapid growth, the Spanish Mass may need to move into the school gym, meaning the chapel may be available again.