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May 29, 2015 | Carol E. Barnwell

A Thriving Latino Ministry Is the Goal

[Diolog Magazine] The Rev. Simón Bautista, Canon Missioner for Latino Ministries at Christ Church Cathedral, Houston,was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. Ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1987, he taught philosophy, served two parishes and pastored Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic before moving to the United States in 1993. He was received into the Episcopal Church in 2004 and served as Canon for Latino Ministries in the Diocese of Washington before coming to the Cathedral in 2014. Bautista also serves as chaplain to the House of Bishops. He and his wife Amarilis Vargas have four children.


CEB: Who first taught you about Jesus?

SB: My mother was a woman of strong belief and profound convictions. Her faith was the answer to everything and the solution to all problems. For my mother, prayer and church were essential. She pointed my siblings and me to Jesus, and she led by example. I learned to pray from my mother, sitting with her to pray the rosary, which she used to say in the early evening. So it was through the devotion of the rosary that I became familiar with the name of Jesus. It was by walking with my mother approximately two miles every Sunday that I learned the road to Church. 


CEB: What led you to seminary?

SB: I realized that God might have been calling me early on in my journey. At 17, I was already very involved in my local church, Iglesia del Espiritu Santo, where I attended Bible study and community reflections. We also learned about different issues that affected our community. I think this was how I learned to put life, faith and the Bible in dialogue.  The priests and nuns of my parish were involved in these conversations and very active in the community, so I grew up looking up to them as role models. I think this is what eventually took me to seminary.


CEB: How does your ministry to the Spanish-speaking members of Christ Church Cathedral compare with your previous ministry in the Dominican Republic?

SB: I spent much of my ministry in the Dominican Republic on the road, on my feet and with my hands full. Sundays were a marathon from sunrise to sunset, and most weekdays seemed to have endless hours, but nonetheless, very gratifying and rewarding.

My ministry at Christ Church Cathedral is similar in that I am serving mostly immigrants. Though the interests and needs of these people are different, both groups are among the most vulnerable and are the subject of discrimination and exploitation because of their race and status.


CEB: How did your experience with Haitian immigrants inform your ministry with Hispanic immigrants?

SB: Ministering to the Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic and Latinos here in the United States has made me embrace “the otherness” in the greatest capacity and introduced me to the concept of diversity in a way I hadn’t thought about previously. In a word, working with Haitian immigrants in my home country formed me to offer unlimited hospitality and enhanced a dimension of my priesthood.


CEB: What led you to the Episcopal Church? How did your faith formation inform this decision?

SB: I left active ministry in the Roman Catholic Church in 1993 when I lived in Manhattan. After several years away from ministry, I decided to reclaim my call to the priesthood, so I began visiting churches. The Episcopal Church was attractive [because worship seemed familiar]. However, this is not why I became an Episcopalian. I became an Episcopalian because of the differences between the two traditions—the sense of diversity and inclusion of the Episcopal Church—as well as the power of the voice of the laity in the governance of the Church.


CEB: Can you describe some of the challenges that the immigrant population here has as it relates to finding a community of faith?

SB: Finding the right community of faith is always a challenge for anyone. Latinos are no exception. The language barrier makes finding a faith community particularly challenging [along with] the newness of the culture and context, family composition, educational level, the type of job one has, the particular religiosity practices each group carries, and in many cases, the legal status of many.

Latinos are choosing the Episcopal Church over the Roman Catholic and other churches as well. In many cases, by the time many Latinos visit an Episcopal church they had already been part of or have visited other denominations. But most Latinos come straight from the Roman Catholic Church because of our [ability to welcome them as they are], for who they are and wherever they are in their journey of faith and commitment.

Being a former Roman Catholic priest sometimes helps, sometimes it doesn’t. For some it may be comfortable, for others, it may raise their suspicions. Being a Latino and a former Roman Catholic who had fully embraced the Episcopal faith has put me in a very desirable position when it comes to making people feel welcome in our midst.


CEB: Tell me about the ministry to Latinos at the Cathedral?

SB: The Latino Ministry at Christ Church Cathedral is mission at home, offering to the Cathedral its greatest expression of diversity with a great potential to grow. Thanks to the great work of my predecessors, the commitment of our lay leaders, the dedication of Canon Jim McGill and the enthusiasm of the Rev. Eileen O’Brien, this congregation feels at home in our midst and has made of the Cathedral its spiritual home.


CEB: What are your goals for this community at the Cathedral?

SB: To grow, form and educate; to strengthen the relationship between members of Spanish- and English-speaking members of the Cathedral and to take the Cathedral Latino ministry to the neighborhoods and invite the neighborhoods into the Cathedral.