Parish works toward integration
Tucson Citizen
Mar. 12, 2006


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 upper-middle class.

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 downtown Tucson.

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."