Parish works toward integration
Mar. 12, 2006
CLAUDINE LOMONACO Tucson Citizen
TUCSON - Father Gil Martinez first came to St. Cyril of Alexandria Catholic
Church as a seminarian in 1990, when the church was mostly Anglo and middle to
He returned two years ago to a very different church, one where Spanish-speakers
made up 25 percent of the parish.
St. Cyril had done its best to welcome the Spanish-speakers, but it was
"accommodation, not integration," Martinez said. Their events and Masses were
scheduled so as to not interfere with English-speaking services, even though the
overflowing Spanish Mass was the best attended.
The two communities had little to do with one another, Martinez worried. His job
was to help them grow and become one at the parish about five miles east of
He enacted a series of changes, including moving up the 3 p.m. Spanish Mass to a
more convenient 1 p.m., producing a bilingual bulletin and creating concurrent
Spanish/English religious education classes.
But the most dramatic and controversial change was bringing the Virgin of
Guadalupe, central to Mexican Catholicism, out of the storage space and onto the
altar. She took one of the most prominent positions in the church, opposite a
statue of Jesus. The move made Spanish-speakers feel at home, but it met with
resistance among some Anglo parishioners.
Martinez got furious e-mails saying that the entire church was going to become
Hispanic and that there would be no room for English-speakers.
Several families left the parish.
Others, like 59-year-old Phyllis Reid, have embraced the change. The
Spanish-speakers have brought new vitality to the church and it has become
richer for it, she said.
Last year, Martinez moved the Day of the Dead shrine from the recreation hall to
the church vestibule. It was a foreign tradition to Reid, a longtime
parishioner. But once Martinez explained that the shrine was a way to honor
loved ones, Reid brought in a photo of her beloved husband who passed away 10
years ago and placed it on the shrine.
"It was a way of acknowledging what a big part of my life he was," she said,
"and still is."