SEATTLE – It’s an extra-joyous Easter season at Holy Family Parish, where more than 700 adults and children are receiving sacraments of initiation this year.
“It’s a lovely thing,” said Father Jose Alvarez, Holy Family’s pastor.
At the April 20 Easter Vigil Mass, 200 children and adults received sacraments of initiation, including 110 who were baptized, according to Deacon Abel Magaña, who oversees the parish’s faith formation programs.
Four days later, 204 Holy Family teens were confirmed by Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg, who gave each of them a book of prayers he has collected over the years, Deacon Magaña said. And on May 11, nearly 350 parish children will receive their first Communion, spread over three Masses, Father Alvarez said.
Holy Family, a bilingual parish located in the White Center neighborhood of southwest Seattle, has about 1,100 registered households. Its major cultural communities include Latinos, Vietnamese, Filipinos and Caucasians.
“People all over the place recognize Holy Family is a vibrant parish,” Deacon Magaña said. “It’s a blessing, it is really, how God is present in our church.”
At Holy Family, other sacraments also draw large numbers of people. The lines can be very long for confessions, which are heard twice a week and every first Friday.
“We can be sitting in there for three or four hours [and] sometimes we don’t finish confessions,” Father Alvarez said.
And multiple weddings will be celebrated at Holy Family every weekend from now through September or early October, he said.
The numbers of people needing pastoral care can be overwhelming at times, said Father Alvarez, who has been Holy Family’s pastor for nearly two years and serves as chaplain at nearby Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien.
“I constantly pray to God [for] the wisdom and humbleness that I need to guide these people [so] that they approach God correctly and they have God in their lives forever,” he said.
Father Jose Alvarez, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Seattle, baptized 110 people at the April 20 Easter Vigil Mass. By the time Easter season ends, more than 700 adults and children will have received sacraments of initiation at the bilingual parish. Photo: Courtesy Holy Family Parish
Parish ‘is like their own home’
A large percentage of those who received sacraments recently are members of Hispanic families who come to Holy Family from as far away as Mount Vernon and Lakewood, Father Alvarez said.
“It’s amazing and it is kind of a strange phenomenon. I haven’t experienced this before,” said Father Alvarez, who was ordained in 2012 and previously served at parishes in Lakewood, the Skagit Valley and Lynden/Deming.
A couple of things might explain why some people travel an hour or more to Holy Family to attend Mass each week, plus sacramental prep classes, he said.
Holy Family was one of the first churches in the Seattle area that offered Mass in Spanish, and for many immigrants in the region, it was the first place they attended church after arriving here, Father Alvarez said. Even if they’ve moved to other communities with Spanish Masses nearby, “they still feel Holy Family is like their own home,” he said.
And parishioners tell him Holy Family “‘reminds us of our own churches in Latin America. It feels like a real Catholic church,’” Father Alvarez said.
When they come to Holy Family, “everyone is speaking Spanish,” said Deacon Magaña, who grew up in Mexico, moved to the U.S. in 1988 and has worked at Holy Family since 1993 (he was ordained in 2003). “But most of the language, to me, is how we are caring about them.”
Although Hispanics are “very sacramental people,” Deacon Magaña said, after coming to the U.S., they may fall away from regular practice of their faith — perhaps because they are moving around so much or working hard to build a better life for their families. As a result, they may get behind in receiving the sacraments and their children may not be baptized.
But when they realize something is missing in their lives, “they’re bringing back the kids to the Catholic Church,” Deacon Magaña said.
In his homilies, Father Alvarez said, “I try to push to people how important it is to have all the sacraments.”
Taking spiritual care of his parishioners is a lot of work, Father Alvarez said, but “in the end, it’s God’s work.” Without his “unbelievable” staff and team of volunteers, he said, “I wouldn’t be able to do half the job.”