BANGOR, Maine — Nearly every American-born Catholic who walked into St. John Catholic Church on York Street Sunday afternoon would have recognized that a Mass was being celebrated.
They would not have been surprised to see a priest at the altar raising a host above his head as he prepared Communion. A Maine Catholic who simply wandered in might not, however, have understood the language in which the people were praying.
“Senor, no soy digno de que entres en mi casa,” the 60 or so people kneeling in the church prayed in unison, “pero una palabra tuya bastara para sanarme.”
It would have quickly become apparent to non-Spanish speakers that the words are those said at every Mass — “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
Mass was celebrated in Spanish at St. John’s for the second time this year. Last month, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland began offering Mass in Spanish at 1 p.m. on the second Sunday of each month.
About 35 people attended what is believed to be the first Spanish Mass held in the Bangor church, on Jan. 9. The next Mass in Spanish will be celebrated on March 14.
The request for a Spanish Mass at St. John’s officially came from Maria Rave, whose family owns and operates Thistle’s Restaurant. The founder of Chispa, a group made up of more than 60 Spanish speakers who live and work in northern Maine, knew that if a Mass were offered, the Hispanic community would embrace it.
“They are almost glowing in their gratitude,” the Rev. Philip M. Tracy of Portland said after conducting Sunday’s Mass, “and they all really express it.”
Tracy, who was ordained a priest in 1960 and retired in 2001, taught himself Spanish years ago. He also celebrates weekly Masses in Spanish at Sacred Heart-St. Dominic Catholic Church in Portland and at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Lewiston.
The priest said it might be possible for him to celebrate weekly Spanish Masses in Bangor if it can be coordinated with the southern Maine churches.
The diocese’s Hispanic outreach dates back to the late 1980s and early 1990s when the Rev. Frank Morin, now in Augusta, began celebrating Mass for Mexican workers from the egg farms in Turner. Morin, who spent five years at a mission in Bolivia, also celebrated Mass in Spanish in Portland and Cherryfield, when he served parishes in those communities.
The Hispanic ministry was launched in 2005 with a grant from the Sisters of Mercy and funding from the diocese. Sister Patricia Pora, who returned to Maine in 2001 after years of missionary work in Peru, saw a need for the ministry in her work as interpreter in Portland’s home health nursing program in the mid-1990s and more recently in her work at Mercy Hospital in Portland.
Pora, a member of the Sisters of Mercy, said Sunday that expanding the Hispanic ministry into northern and eastern Maine “is something we had to do.”
“Having Mass in Spanish in my parish is just great,” Maria Tijan-Wieck of Bangor said after Sunday’s service.
“The older you are, the more you miss your roots,” the native of Spain said of why she came to the Mass.
Maria Sandwiess, a native of Peru who now lives in Bangor, brought her son to experience the Mass in Spanish.
“As a Catholic, it is very important to go to weekly Mass, wherever you are,” she said. “I’m very happy to have the Mass in Spanish here. We want to teach our children our language and religion.”
It is possible, according to Pora, for other sacraments such as baptisms, marriages and funerals to be performed in Spanish. The state’s geography and the fact that, to her knowledge, only three priests speak Spanish well enough to conduct Mass and deliver a homily in Spanish, have made it difficult to offer the sacraments regu-larly to Hispanic Catholics in their native language.
Pora told the diocesan magazine Harvest that because so many Latin nations are impoverished, the people who live in them readily relate to the suffering of Christ.
“They are Good Friday people,” she said in an article published in the May-June 2008 issue. “They’ve been through so much, and that’s what they relate to, and that’s why they relate so much to Jesus because of what he went through.”
Rave said that while nearly all of the adults who attended Sunday’s Mass understood Spanish, their native countries included Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Peru and Costa Rica. Most now live in Greater Bangor, but one family came from Washington County to take part in the Spanish Mass.
Pora said the U.S. Census Bureau has estimated there are 15,000 Hispanics in Maine. She expects that number to increase after this year’s census is completed.
For more information on the Hispanic ministry, call Sister Patricia Pora at 615-2522 or visit the diocesan Web site at www.portlanddiocese.net/unafamilia.