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Joy in the Living Jesus

Photo: Courtesy Holy Family Parish Photo: Courtesy Holy Family Parish

Hundreds prepare for Easter sacraments at ‘vibrant’ Seattle parish

Joy in the Risen Jesus is unmistakable at Seattle’s Holy Family Parish, where nearly 600 people are preparing to receive the sacraments of initiation this Easter season.

“It’s a blessing how God is present in our church,” said Deacon Abel Magaña, who leads the parish’s faith formation programs. “People all over the place recognize Holy Family is a vibrant parish.”

Holy Family, an English/Spanish bilingual parish located in the White Center neighborhood of Seattle, has about 1,100 registered households who come from as far away as Mount Vernon and Lakewood. Its diverse community also includes those of Vietnamese, Filipino and Cambodian heritage.

Deacon Magaña, who has worked at Holy Family since 1993 (he was ordained in 2003) has seen the number of catechumens — those seeking baptism — increase dramatically in the last decade or so, especially in the parish’s Hispanic community.

Hispanic people “are very religious in their own countries,” said Holy Family’s pastor, Father Jose Alvarez. But 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.

When they realize something is missing in their lives, “they’re bringing back the kids to the Catholic Church,” said Deacon Magaña, who relies on nearly 50 volunteers to teach the children and adults who will receive baptism, first Communion and confirmation between Easter and Pentecost.

Holy Family, SeattlePhoto: Courtesy Holy Family Parish

 ‘Like their own home’

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,’” said Father Alvarez, who was ordained in 2012 and has served at parishes in Lakewood, the Skagit Valley, Lynden and Deming.

When they come to Holy Family, “everyone is speaking Spanish,” Deacon Magaña said. “But most of the language, to me, is how we are caring about them.”

At Holy Family, it’s not just the sacraments of initiation that draw large number of people. The lines can be very long for confessions. “We can be sitting in there for three or four hours [and] sometimes we don’t finish confessions,” Father Alvarez said. And last year’s wedding season saw multiple ceremonies each weekend through the spring and summer.

The number of people needing pastoral care can be overwhelming at times, Father Alvarez said.

“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.

Holy Family, SeattleLeft Photo: Courtesy Holy Family Parish; Right Photo: Stephen Brashear

Empowering parents to teach the faith

Deacon Magaña can relate to many families who seek the sacraments at Holy Family. After moving to the U.S. in 1988, he and his wife (born in Chicago but from the same town in Mexico) were working hard, supporting two children and trying to save money to buy a place back home. But he wasn’t going to Mass.

It took his father-in-law, visiting from Mexico, to observe the path he was on and give him a wake-up call: Who will pass on the faith to your daughters?

“It started clicking in my mind, to realize that I left God in Mexico,” Deacon Magaña said. That talk was a blessing, he said, helping him return to the church.

One of his goals at Holy Family is empowering parents in their responsibility as the first teachers of the faith to their children. “We need to teach them how to do it … at home. That’s where I learned the most, from my parents and my grandparents,” he said.

So when children meet for their weekly Communion and confirmation classes, more than 400 parents gather in the church to learn more about the faith from Deacon Magaña. He shares a reading and stories of people’s conversion experiences, then prays with the parents and “let[s] the Holy Spirit do the work he’s supposed to do.”

More than just the tenets of the faith, Deacon Magaña wants people to know Jesus. “When you have experience with him, you fall in love with him and you follow him,” Deacon Magaña said. “If they love Jesus, everything is going to change in their lives.”

Holy Family, SeattlePhoto: Stephen Brashear

He also teaches the importance of being a good steward — sharing time, talent and treasure to enrich the Holy Family community. Deacon Magaña reminds them of the Catholics who built the parish, never imagining that one day it would welcome so many immigrants. They weren’t rich, but they were “people committed to love of God.”

“And you are too, so you need to do your part,” the deacon tells them.

For about 15 years, he has been giving parents attendance punch cards — for class and Mass — to help build the habit of participating in the parish. He tells the story of a man who stopped him at a mall one day, pulled an old punch card from his wallet, kissed it and explained that, thanks to that card, he had come back to the church.

“This is the most beautiful thing happening in my life,” Deacon Magaña said. “I don’t have a way to express this gift to evangelize people. To bring those people to God. It’s amazing what’s happening.”

Receiving Easter Sacraments

At Holy Family Parish in Seattle, nearly 600 people are preparing to receive the sacraments of initiation during the Easter season:

• 56 baptisms

• 83 Communion/confirmation candidates

• 220 first Communion recipients

• 226 confirmation candidates

Read the Spanish version of this story.

Northwest Catholic - April 2020

Jean Parietti

Jean Parietti is the local news editor for NWCatholic.org and features editor for Northwest Catholic magazine. You can reach her at [email protected].

Jean Parietti es editora local para el sitio web NWCatholic.org y destacada editora de la revista Noroeste Católico/Northwest Catholic. Pueden contactarle en: [email protected].

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