Spanish Language Ministry Debuts at Brown
By Ayleen Sanchez, Brown ’20
For many Christian students, their faith is deeply rooted in culture and language; a sudden transition away from their ethnic community can become an additional challenge in maintaining their faith while in college. With this in mind, the Brown Rhode Island School of Design Catholic Community (BRCC) has launched a Spanish ministry on campus to reach out to Hispanic students.
(From left to right) Giovanna Milano, '22, Maria Cortinez, '22, Cecilia Menendez, first-year FOCUS missionary, Alejandra Roca, '19, Ingrid Mader, '20, Vanesa Mora, '21, and Ayleen Sanchez, '19
In fall 2018, Cecilia Menendez, a new missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students and native Spanish speaker, arrived on Brown’s campus and started the first Spanish Bible study at Brown. When asked about what led her to do this, she said, “I prayed to be able to use my language skills as a missionary. I hoped to connect and reach Hispanic students whose Catholicism was grounded in Hispanic culture and the Spanish language.”
Menendez, however, was unaware of how many Hispanic students there were on campus and whether or not there would be any interest. Since her arrival, she has found that students have responded positively to her efforts, and she now has over 15 students interested in Spanish Bible study. She strongly believes that, for many students, faith is intrinsically grounded in the Spanish language. It is at the root of “how they pray, what they pray, and how they relate to Jesus,” she says. Additionally, Menendez believes that for non-native Spanish speakers, pursuing a relationship with God in Spanish provides them with a new lens to approach Scripture. For all these reasons, she feels very blessed to be able to use her native language to draw the Hispanic community at Brown towards God.
Giovanna Milano ’22, a regular Spanish Bible study attendee, decided to take on the role of Hispanic Chair in the BRCC beginning in spring 2019. The freshman was anonymously recommended for the position, and, though she felt unprepared for the role, after a few days of prayer, she decided to apply. Milano said the Mexican culture of her youth helped her faith flourish.
“I’m sure more Latin American and Hispanic students have a faith that is linked to their culture,” she said. This was particularly evident in the fall when a Spanish Mass was held on campus to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe, an important Catholic figure in Mexican culture. The Mass was attended by over 40 students, many of whom had not been to Mass since moving to Brown and decided to attend because it was in their native language. The Mass was followed by dinner where students gathered over Mexican tamales and hot chocolate; those without a prior connection to the BRCC were invited into community.
“I hope that students feel comfortable with their faith on campus and that I can help bring them closer to God by organizing Mass and events that will encourage students to participate in their faith,” Milano said. Her ultimate goal as Hispanic Chair is to have Sunday Mass in Spanish every week and to have a group dedicated to studying and striving to emulate the lives of Latino/Hispanic Saints.
When considering what Spanish ministry can accomplish on campus, Menendez says, “The language of prayer is that of a heart-to-heart dialogue with our Lord; the more we can remove obstacles, such as language, from our response to His gentle and unceasing invitation, the better we can give God our unreserved, total, and fearless ‘yes’ to follow Him.”