St Anne serves Catholic faithful in 2 languages
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 18, 2006

State's largest parish has big Hispanic population
Cary Aspinwall

The tremendous growth rate of Gilbert's Hispanic population is evident in the weekly St. Anne Catholic Church bulletin.

Not only are there Spanish-language Masses each weekend, theirs is a Spanish-language Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program for children, a Quinceañeras program for young Latinas and a Ministerios de los Sacramentos.

Not to mention bilingual marriage ceremonies, bilingual retreats, bilingual catechism and an English Language Learners program.

They're all part of an extensive catalog of services offered at St. Anne
Catholic Church, whose low-key facade on Elliot Road can be deceiving. It's
the largest Catholic parish in Arizona, and one of the largest in the
country, with about 9,000 members.

And one-third of the congregation is Hispanic, said Carmen Portela, director
of Hispanic Ministries for St. Anne.

Hispanics make up an estimated 14 percent of Gilbert's population. In 1990,
there were an estimated 3,382 Hispanics living in Gilbert. By 2005, the
number had increased to more than 21,000, according to U.S. Census data and
Claritas surveys.

Five years ago, Portela moved to Gilbert from Puerto Rico with her husband
when he got a job transfer to Intel in Chandler.

"We prefer Gilbert because it's more family-oriented," she said. Her ability
to speak fluent Spanish and English made her an ideal fit for the church's
growing Hispanic ministry.

When she started, the church had 1,500 Hispanic members. Now that membership
has doubled.

St. Anne has tried to create programs to mirror all the services available
for English-speaking members, Portela said.

"When they feel they are welcome, they give so much back," she said.

They also have a citizenship program with pro bono lawyers, she said.

The Church's Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine is a chapel dedicated to all of
the immigrants "who died in the desert in search of a better life."

There's a monthly celebration to bring together the church's Hispanic
families, she said.

Most of the Hispanic members of the congregation are Mexican, but others
hail from the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Argentina and
other countries.

"We're trying to include all the cultures, because then we can share things
and learn and become better human beings," Portela said. "We have different
gifts, and when we put them together, the church becomes a stronger church."