Spanish Churches See Growth in Pittsburgh

As a vocal trio sang a guitar-led chorus, people lined up by the dozens down the center aisle for a ritual anointing of oil by the Rev. Fernando Torres during a Sunday afternoon Spanish Mass at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Beechview.

“It’s for healing the body, also the spirit,” said Father Torres, a parochial vicar at St. Catherine.

In the nearby neighborhood of Brookline on another Sunday, worshipers at Iglesia Cristiana Sion raised their hands, closed their eyes, sang and prayed in Spanish — and sometimes in unknown tongues.

Like the Latino community in Pittsburgh as a whole, the ranks of churches offering services in Spanish are small but growing.

“This has become home away from home where they can come and they can hear their language, know that their brothers and sisters sitting next to them know what they have experienced,” said Gigi D’Amico, coordinator for Hispanic ministry at St. Catherine and a bilingual native of Puerto Rico. “The Hispanic community is very strong in their faith. To be able to come and experience their faith in the way that is experienced in their home, versus an English version of it, with their traditions and the richness of their language and music is very meaningful.”

There are about five parishes in the six-county Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh with Spanish Masses. That may be tiny compared to many other dioceses around the country, but the Latino presence has prompted the diocese to appoint its first coordinator of Hispanic ministry, Jorge Vela.

Catholic traditions are deeply embedded in Latin American culture, which provides a launching point for helping raise new generations of Catholics, he said..

“I will take advantage of that tradition, but I will also help the parents to live it,” said Mr. Vela. “I want to give it a good reason, not just tradition. Give the faith because you are living it.”

For years, St. Regis Parish in Oakland has offered Masses in Spanish. It was joined by Spanish Masses at St. Catherine with the growth of the Latino in the city’s southern neighborhoods, although people come from a wide radius, said Father Torres.

One thing widely shared at Hispanic churches is a hope for immigration reform that would enable many of their faithful to attain legal status.

Frank Rondon, pastor at Iglesia Cristiana Sion, said he saw opposite trends unfolding in the weeks after the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

Among regular attendees, “I noticed some people who were so afraid, they didn’t come to church,” he said. “And some people who never went to church were so afraid, they came to church.”

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