Father Celestino Gutierrez

Father Celestino Gutierrez, left

Where are you now?

"My life as a priest, pastor of a bilingual Catholic Church/ Hispanic-American Center, does not change in terms of routine duties, which include weekly services, funeral masses, 15 year-old celebrations, baptisms, weddings, and the occasional service that is directed to a special event, such as a Patron Saint’s Day. What increased was the number of visits to the elderly, couples and singles, who need company, conversation, and attention.”

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced lately?

"My vocation, by definition, exposes me every day to the lives of my community. Family issues, illnesses, deaths, immigration worries, and the basics of life: loss of jobs, rent payments, and our church food pantry’s operations.

“I am challenged by people who need to feel protected and come for counsel. I am concerned with the young Hispanics in our community who are struggling between one language, one culture at home and another language, culture outside. It is important that they don’t lose their mother tongue and know they can participate in both arenas.

“The most significant issue has been the recent Covid-19 pandemic, which has affected all of us in the United States and the world. Travel has been seriously limited. I was unable to go to my native Spain this year, missing a family baptism, funeral, and my annual vacation.

“It hurt to see my church closed; no Masses, no people kneeling in prayer and our pews sadly empty. In response to the Hispanic community needs, I am doing a weekly Sunday radio Mass in Spanish which is heard in both Sarasota and Manatee counties. Once we super-sanitized the church and received authority to re-open, parishioners came back but in small numbers.”

Where are you making a difference?

"In my church the response to the Covid-19 crisis was a remarkable tribute to the faith and active approach of our community. Proper health protocols were established with full cooperation. Food and checks were donated. Time was donated to maintain the sanitary levels. Phone banks checked on the elderly. Bilingual assistance was available for rent, utilities, electricity payments. And, amazingly, a 2020 vehicle was donated as a raffle item, resulting in a $50,000 gift to the church. Through the years St. Jude has been blessed with volunteers who are dedicated to our mission of helping others. I witness this in awe and in gratitude. Donors regularly support the Food Pantry. Our ministries include migrant help in Myakka, Jail Counseling, Youth Group Workshops.”

What are you counseling people to practice?

"Time, patience and prayer are needed for any project to succeed. "

What behaviors will help to heal our divides?

"We are all individuals with backgrounds that don’t always match. We must learn from one another. St. Jude, with its multiple nationalities represented, encourages tolerance by its very existence. Our many activities bring together the Hispanic and the Anglo communities to study, to pray, to work for others, and to appreciate the values of the opposition. We share examples of discrimination, racial profiling, bullying and ways to reject these behaviors and embrace tolerance and inclusion.”

Do you feel hopeful at this point in history?

"I am always hopeful that people will understand the need to work together. The political divide is worrisome, but my faith tells me we are stronger and unity will return. Leadership, poised to do just that, is one way. The Golden Rule (‘Do unto others…’) is always a good practice, too.”    

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