Reaching the Baptized Nonbeliever

Interview With San Antonio Archdiocese Family Life Director

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By Genevieve Pollock

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, AUG. 22, 2010 ( The new evangelization will be advanced if we can tap into the hidden treasures of the Church, including the theology of the body and the Hispanic community, says Jake Samour.

ZENIT spoke with the Samour, the director of Marriage and Family Life for the San Antonio Archdiocese, after his presentation at the National Theology of the Body Congress in Philadelphia.

Samour, who was forced to flee from his home in El Salvador during that country’s revolution over 30 years ago, shared his unique perspective on the opportunities and threats of working with the Hispanic community.

A former engineer who left his career to dedicate himself to fulltime ministry, he also spoke with ZENIT about ways in which he uses the teaching of John Paul II as well as Benedict XVI to bring Christ to marriages and families.

ZENIT: You fled El Salvador 30 years ago, but the situation of unrest has continued for many families in South and Central America. What is your perspective on the needs of these people?

Samour: The upheaval, oppression and violation of human rights has indeed continued. We don’t hear much about it because we don’t have the constant threat of Communism; we used to hear a lot more.

But even though there are no real threats to overthrow corrupt governments like there were in the 70s and 80s, the violence and oppression continue, and young people are finding different ways to cause unrest because they feel like there’s no real help for them.

It has been a constant reminder for the Church to try to address these things.

We need to understand how to reach Hispanics. We need to understand their true identity, where they are coming from, and the struggles that they go through coming here to the United States.

Once we identify what that struggle is, we can call them to the true liberation that Christ calls us to.

It is not just liberation from our temporal struggles, but liberation from the spiritual battle within all of us.

When we start healing, and when that conversion happens inside of us, the world begins to change, one person at a time.

It has to be a wholesome conversion, not just what a lot of ministry has focused on. A lot of Hispanic ministry has had a liberation theology tint to it, which wants to help the oppressed — and that is good — but it seems like we end up in two different camps.

We have the camp of those that work for social justice saying, “If we want peace, work for justice.” And then you have the pro-life camp. It seems like there are two different arenas, where the social issues have nothing to do with the life issues.

Benedict XVI addressed that in his latest encyclical. He talked about how these two aspects both go hand-in-hand. You cannot have concern for the dignity of the human person without the concern for the goodness of human life, from conception all the way to natural death.

ZENIT: You have been working in a particular way with both the Hispanic community, which it is such a large community especially in the Catholic United States. It struck me that Benedict XVI, when he was here a couple years back, addressed that community and said, “We need you in the Church in the United States.” Have you seen any of the ideas of the theology of the body being picked up in particular by the Hispanic community?

Samour: It is slow in coming. It is a vastly untapped treasure, not only the theology of the body itself, but also the Hispanic people.

It remains an untapped treasure for the United States. We are becoming more and more a Hispanic Church, but without a real show of leadership.

Very few ministers, whether at a parish level, diocesan level, or national level, are Hispanics. A very small number of priests and religious are Hispanics.

Thus there is a need for the new evangelization. We need to be able to proclaim it to our contemporary people, to find new ways. People like those that are promoting the theology of the body have found a way to promote it to this culture, but mainly to the European Americans.

The message is the same. In the theology of the body, or any encyclical or apostolic exhortation, the Pope writes to the whole world, so that it will appeal to every single person. But it needs to be enculturated.

The Church talks about this in Vatican Council II and is continuing to talk about it in meetings and conferences in different places in Latin America.

One key thing for evangelization is friendship, forming community, letting the other person know that you care. There is a saying, “I really don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.”

When I went into ministry I got a job at the Denver Diocese, and it just so happened that across the hall from where I worked was the office of marriage and family life. There was a man named Christopher West there, and he befriended me.

Through that friendship, I saw that he cared. Every time I talked to him he said that he prayed for me, that his children prayed for me. That was key.

Within that friendship he was able to share his story, and that opened me up to share my story, and to try to heal it. He invited me to some of his talks and activities, and in this way, he invited me to an encounter with Christ. That’s the key.

Now that is the way I approach the couples that we see in marriage preparation. It has been one of our main focuses in the archdiocese, revamping the guidelines and the services that we provide to the couples that are getting married, because we know they have to come.

We offer marriage preparation to the couples, but we also give them catechesis. We tell them that we are here as friends, to let them know what is going to make their marriage not become a statistic.

ZENIT: What part has the theology of the body played in that marriage preparation and evangelization process?

Samour: A great part. We use the “God’s Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage” program, which provides a great outline for a retreat or for a talk.

We use the outline that the Pope gave us, and teach them God’s plan for marriage and how it has been distorted through sin.

Everyone can identify with that struggle in the heart to do what is right and to avoid what is wrong. We can all agree on that, and so it turns out to be an evangelizing moment as well.

This is an answer to what John Paul said, how we find ourselves in a time where there is this new phenomenon of the baptized non-believer.

This is very true for Hispanics. They are all Catholic; most of them that Latin American countries have been baptized in the faith, but they don’t know who Christ is, they don’t have a real relationship with the Church, and they don’t know what it means to be a disciple.

Thus we are able to speak to them about the truth of marriage, love and sexuality, but we can in the same stroke bring them Christ, or at least introduce them. We do this not by imposing anything but by an invitation — “come and see” — and open their eyes to something new.

There used to be a slogan from Kellogg’s: “Taste them again for the first time.” It is like that, one of those feelings as if you have not had a meal in a long time, and it is the first time again, though you have a distant memory of it.

That is what John Paul is trying to do is, invite people to “taste” and see the Church in a brand new way, not the Church that your grandparents knew, this is not like the old Model T car. It’s brand new.

It is still the Gospel, it is still Christ coming to meet you, but in a brand new way.

Most of us, myself included, grew up with that sense of looking at the Church and what it means to be Catholic, in a disconnected way, without a connection between faith and daily life. There are a lot of disconnects in the Hispanics as well. Obviously the devil tries to separate, tries to keep us from seeing the co

That abyss gets bigger when people move from other countries to here, because you lose your family connection, and start to lose some of the traditions. That happened in my own family and we have only been here 30 years. My brothers and sisters and I have struggled to keep the traditions, the meaning of why we celebrate Our Lady Queen of Peace, patron of El Salvador.

It is not so much about the Mass anymore but about the celebration afterwards, and the cleanup we have to do after all the guests leave. We always have a Mass, mainly in thanksgiving, because my mom really believes that Our Lady protected us, that it was through her intercession that we were able to come to this country. They have never forgotten that.

My dad was a lawyer and a judge and he had to flee the country, driving for five days with 12 children. Many miracles took place just to keep us together through all the dangers and all the things my parents had to go through to get their visas and get out of the country safe. We said many rosaries.

My parents pray the rosary every day still. I believe it has been a great source of intercession, continual prayer for us, in this different culture and language, and we have succeeded within all that through the prayers of my parents.

The danger is if these traditions start to become traditionalism and lose their meaning.

As Catholics we need to fully realize the symbolism of everything, that everything we do is full of meaning.

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