Hispanic Services Growing
January 28, 2021
DIOCESE—As the Catholic Hispanic population grows in the Rockford Diocese, so do the number of Spanish-speakers helping to serve them.
Based on 2019 Census data it is estimated that “40.7% of the Catholic faithful in the diocese are Hispanic,” according to Kevin Fuss, director of Research and Planning of the diocese. 
The Hispanic population is served not only in English Masses, but also in Spanish Masses that are celebrated in 31 parishes in 20 communities from the Fox River to the Mississippi River. 
Historically first
The Catholic Church in the Western Hemisphere owes much to the Hispanic culture. The first Catholic Mass in what would become the United States was in Spanish in St. Augustine, Fla.
“At the landing on Sept. 8, 1565, the Spanish held a celebratory Mass and thus began the establishment of the Church ... . The Cathedral of St. Augustine (is) the center of America’s oldest Catholic parish,” according to the National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
“In a Church that goes forth, the ecclesial integration of many cultures into the one Body of Christ, united by faith and mission is essential,” according to the “Proceedings and Conclusions of the V National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry.”
“Diversity of language, culture, spirituality, needs and gifts are not an obstacle to unity, but rather they can and should enrich the body with solidarity between groups and support for all,” it reads.
Nowadays, the Rockford Diocese is headed by Bishop David Malloy, who speaks five languages, among them Spanish. 
In addition, there are a record number of Spanish-speaking employees working from the Diocesan Administration Building in Rockford, including eight Hispanics. Several more work in parishes and schools.
Msgr. Arquímedes Vallejo is the Hispanic with the longest time serving at the Diocesan Administration Center. 
He says he admires “the integration in parishes and diocesan level. Every time we have a meeting in the Hispanic Ministry, we have a high participation,” he said almost seven years ago, when he celebrated his silver anniversary of priesthood. 
“It has been a wonderful experience of love serving in different communities,” said Veronica Sainz, Msgr. Vallejo’s assistant. 
“God has entrusted each one of us with different gifts and talents given by the Holy Spirit, for the good of the whole,” she added. “Since our mission as Catholics is to evangelize and live the commandments, in my personal experience I have found out that it is not enough just knowing the language and translating, but it is also very important to know more about my Catholic faith and the diversity of cultures within the (Hispanic) communities, in order to better understand and help the people.”  
She said she has found her work for the diocese “very satisfying and sometimes challenging as well because I am conscious that I still have much to learn about my faith in order to better serve in our Catholic Church.” 
Coco Zeman, secretary to Bishop Malloy, has worked for the Diocese of Rockford “for several years in different roles” — at her parish and its school, and at the administration building “on and off since 2004.” 
“It has always been an honor to assist ... in reaching out to the Hispanic community, and hopefully offering the Hispanic community some comfort in knowing that if they feel more comfortable communicating in Spanish, there is someone here to help,” she said.
Hispanic newcomers
The two newest diocesan religious education and formation office employees are also Hispanic.
Julieta Jacobo was hired for the new position of Diocesan Coordinator of Hispanic Catechesis and Formation to serve “both the religious education programs and the adult faith formation needs of our diocese,” said John Jelinek, director of Religious Education and Formation. 
Jacobo’s background is in human resources, particularly employee training, both on-site and online.
 She is a graduate of the diocesan Ministry Formation and Catechetical Leaders certification programs.
She is also “a trained Spanish/English medical interpreter,” she said. “As a volunteer I worked with English as a Second Language students for over 20 years as a classroom assistant.” 
She also brings experience as a director of religious education at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Aurora, and as evangelization coordinator and social media director at St. Rita of Cascia in Aurora.
Rudy Villafuerte is the administrative assistant for Ministry Formation in the diocesan Department of Educational Services Office.
He comes from St. Mary Parish in Woodstock where he worked as a catechist. He is also a graduate of the diocesan Ministry Formation program. 
Villafuerte also speaks both English and Spanish.
He will be “an integral part of growing the department and working with our Spanish speaking communities,” Jelinek said. 
“For me, working for the Diocese of Rockford means an opportunity to make an impact in our larger community of Church. I have been volunteering locally at my home parish, St. Mary (in) Woodstock, for many years. Now I get to expand my scope of practice and work full time with the field I’ve learned to love since I was a teen.”
Jelinek, Villafuerte said, is “working on providing our programs en español in the near future. Great things to look forward to.” 
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