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Reaching out

PELICAN RAPIDS, MINN. - A Latin rhythm wafts across the church parking lot. The Spanish lyrics from the stage praise God. At least 600 people gathered on folding chairs and blankets in this town of 2,300 Tuesday evening to hear the national Chris...

Deanne Chadinha

PELICAN RAPIDS, MINN. - A Latin rhythm wafts across the church parking lot. The Spanish lyrics from the stage praise God.

At least 600 people gathered on folding chairs and blankets in this town of 2,300 Tuesday evening to hear the national Christian band Salvador. The free concert is a gift to the community from Trinity Lutheran Church, says its pastor, the Rev. Laurie Skow-Anderson.

It is also one way the congregation is trying to reach out to the large Hispanic population that calls Pelican Rapids home.

Census figures show nearly

20 percent of the northwestern Minnesota town is Hispanic. Minnesota as a whole is 3 percent.

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"We all are part of the same family and sometimes we focus on all the things that keep us apart," Skow-Anderson says, "and music is one thing that keeps us together."

Nic Gonzales, lead singer of the Austin, Texas-based Salvador, echoed that sentiment from stage Tuesday evening. Most of its members are Hispanic.

He pointed out they probably ate different foods or spoke different languages growing up than much of the audience, but all worship the same creator.

"We're just God's people today. No colors," he says.

But nationally, Hispanics are transforming the religious landscape because of their growing numbers and distinctive practices.

One-third of all U.S. Catholics are now Latinos, according to an April survey by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found. Two-thirds of all Latinos identify themselves as Catholic, but many are converting to evangelical faiths.

Many attend an ethnic church, where the majority of congregants is Hispanic and the liturgy is in Spanish, the study says.

There are at least a few Hispanic churches in this region, and other local churches are doing what they can to reach out to the burgeoning Hispanic population here. In some cases, it changes the focus of their ministry.

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The Catholic church in Pelican Rapids, St. Leonard of Port Mauritius, a stone's throw from Trinity Lutheran, offers a Hispanic Mass every Sunday afternoon and religious education in Spanish, says the Rev. Stan Wieser, the church's priest.

St. Leonard also celebrates typical Hispanic customs, like quincea?eras (a girl's 15th birthday), presentación del ni?o (presentation of the child, at age 3) and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Wieser says.

"I think it's always kind of been that way, when the Germans came over and the Polish, for awhile we celebrated things in their language until they adapted to the culture and spoke more English," Wieser says. "You just do it because they're here."

St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Moorhead has a full-time Latin ministry coordinator on its staff.

Jorge Salgado has worked at the church for two years. He came to the U.S. from Peru three years ago.

"My responsibility is to welcome the Hispanic people and to help them to maintain their identities and Latino values," Salgado says.

He visits members of the Hispanic community, whether at home, in hospitals or jail, and leads Spanish-language Bible classes.

Confirmation and first communion classes for children are held in the summer, to accommodate the migrant worker population, he says. Attendance at the Sunday afternoon worship service is more than double now compared to winter.

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Salgado says he would like to see more members of the Hispanic community take an active role in the church, reading during Mass or collecting the offering, and attending classes and events beyond the worship service.

One day, he hopes to see an integration between the Hispanic and Anglo members of the church.

"The Hispanic community is not another church. It is the same church," he says. "We don't want to feel separate. We are different, but we want to integrate."

At Tuesday's concert in Pelican Rapids, this integration was evident, not only of culture but age and religious affiliation.

Edgar Hernandez, 17, attends La Primera Iglesia Cristiana - First Christian Church - where his uncle is pastor. He was excited about the Salvador concert, because he's been a fan for a long time.

"They do sing some Spanish songs. Especially in a community like Pelican with different cultures, it's fun to see a band like that."

Skow-Anderson says the church's outreach group, which put on the concert, hopes it helped strengthen the whole community.

"We really think it is an amazing community because of its diversity," she says. "The community is coming to accept its diversity is its strength."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525

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