PORTLAND — “Transformation comes from the bottom, up to the top, so we have to know how to live our faith in this challenging time.”

That was the message Fr. Alejandro López-Cardinale, a priest from the Archdiocese of Boston and a National Eucharistic Preacher, shared with over 150 members of Maine’s Hispanic community, who gathered for a statewide retreat on Saturday, May 13 (pictures available at https://portlanddiocese.org/news/hispanic-ministry-retreat-2023).

“It’s not just being Sunday disciples, but it’s important to be disciples throughout the whole week and through life,” he said. “It’s about the Eucharist, how the Eucharist cannot only come on Sundays but how that Sunday can be lived Monday through Saturday in the families and in the places where they work.”

The retreat, which was held at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception’s Guild Hall in Portland, drew participants from cities and towns throughout the state, including Auburn, Augusta, Lewiston, Milbridge, Sanford, Skowhegan, and Turner, and others.

“They love to get together, and they love to get to know each other, so for me, that is really a great blessing to see them all together and sharing,” said Fr. Michael Sevigny, OFM Cap., director of the diocese’s Office of Hispanic Ministry. “It is a powerful day for us.”

Those who attended the retreat said they came both to experience that sense of community and for the opportunity to grow in their faith.

“It’s a connection. I don’t know. There is something with the retreats that you feel like you are more open to let Christ come into your heart,” said Africa Rovayo, from Auburn, who said she began attending retreats when she was growing up in Venezuela. “Personally, I need it. Second of all, I see this as an opportunity. I am a caregiver for my mom. We have my mom here, and it is another way that my mom can get around and get more connected with people.”

“It’s important, especially for the Hispanic community, because it helps strengthen our faith,” said Jonathan Majano, originally from El Salvador, who now lives in Topsham. “Something like this helps bring people together and helps their faith grow stronger.”

“We need to grow in faith, in love, and, also, in the work of God to grow the kingdom of God,” said José Perez López, an outreach coordinator for the Office of Hispanic Ministry.

It was through the Office of Hispanic Ministry that Fr. López-Cardinale was invited to come to Maine to lead the retreat. Fr. López-Cardinale spent 10 years ministering in Venezuela and is the former president of La RED, the National Catholic Network de Pastoral Juvenil Hispana (Hispanic Youth Ministry). He is also among 50 priests in the United States chosen to help spread the message of the National Eucharistic Revival.

“It’s trying to make possible the cohesive way of living faith, not just for going to the church but how, as churchgoers, we can live our faith in our families and in the small details. It is what the small communities at the beginning of the Church did,” he said.

Fr. López-Cardinale encouraged those attending the retreat to not be discouraged but, rather, to put their trust in Jesus. He shared the story of the Risen Lord’s appearance to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias where they had gone fishing and how he turned their empty catch into an abundant one and then shared a meal with them over a fire.

“From that fire, as disciples, we share the fire with many around us. Especially in the state of Maine, which is the biggest in Region One and is very rural, we need to keep the faith going in the way that we live in ordinary life, in communities, in families,” he said. “Our concern is how we percolate that faith into everyday life, into social justice issues, into immigration, education.”

Fr. López-Cardinale said it is important to have retreats, such as the one in Portland, to grow a sense of community and a sense of being sent forth.

“These gatherings are kind of a drop of water in the middle of the ocean but trying to be a light, a beacon of hope, a beacon of light,” he said. “The most important thing is how we can encourage people to keep the faith going. So, it’s not just one event. It’s what happens next.”

In addition to the presentations by Fr. López-Cardinale, the retreat also included eucharistic adoration, the celebration of Mass, the opportunity for the sacrament of reconciliation, and worship and praise music, which had participants rising from their seats to sing, sway, and clap to the music.

“Today is something great because the Hispanic community is united,” said Jocelyn Alvarez from Topsham. “We never really had something like this before. It’s great. I see a lot of people are happy, and they’re moving and they’re dancing. I love it.”

The retreat was presented by the Office of Hispanic Ministry, which is supported by  the Catholic Appeal. The office assists the Hispanic community living and working in Maine by offering Masses in Spanish and sacramental preparation, including marriage and baptismal preparation; faith formation for adults and children; education on social service support in the state; and help to individuals and families in becoming more involved in parish life. With the Latino community in Maine estimated at more than 25,000, the need for outreach has never been greater. If you or someone you know might benefit from the services of the Office of Hispanic Ministry, please contact Fr. Michael Sevigny, OFM Cap., at 207-705-3752; Sister Elsa Telón, RSR, at (207) 618-2156; Rosario Starratt at (207) 312-4716; or José Perez López at (207) 653-5609.