Luis Royo

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Interview Text and Audio


The interview focuses on migrant communities and religious life. Specifically, this interview focuses on the Hispanic population at the Church of St. Thomas More in Chapel Hill, N.C. The interview begins with discussing the role of the Coordinator of Hispanic Ministries - Luis Royo’s position - at the St. Thomas More Church. This discussion also provides insight into the programs that the church is providing for the Hispanic migrant population. Royo also discusses the history of Hispanic ministry at the Church, and efforts by the diocese of Raleigh, N.C. to increase the number of Spanish priests in recent years. He provides information about the national origins of Hispanic Parishioners at the St. Thomas More Church, and about the appearance of non-Hispanic Latin American migrants (from indigenous communities). Then the conversation moves to discuss non-spiritual outreach services provided by the Church, and partnerships that St. Thomas More has with other service providers in the area. After this more logistical outline, the discussion turns to the multi-dimensional role that religious institutions can play in migrants’ lives. The interview also provides information about specific events - such as Our Lady of Guadalupe - celebrated now at the Church, Hispanic enrollment at the parish school, and the Hispanic music ministry. Finally, Royo discusses collaboration within the Church community between Anglo and Hispanic members, and the ongoing growth of Hispanic members within the Church.



Kelsey Jost-Creegan: This is Kelsey Jost-Creegan, it is Monday, March 26th around 12:30 p.m. and I am at St. Thomas More Church with Luis Royo. Good afternoon, thank you for being here with me. And so we’re going to begin with just a few questions about your involvement with this community. So, how long have you been a parishioner at St. Thomas More?
Luis Royo: I’ve been a parishioner for about three years and eight months.
KJ-C: And how long have you been working in the position that you are working in now?
LR: I’ve been working in this position for about two years and a half.
KJ-C: And the official title is (of your position)
LR: Coordinator of Hispanic Ministries.
KJ-C: And so, what are some of your tasks in that job? What do you-- What does your job entail?
LR: Okay…there are different sides of this position. First is the administrative side, which means I’m taking care of all related with the sacraments and recording sacraments, scheduling sacraments for Hispanics, taking care everything’s set for different liturgies with the Spanish communities. On the other side I’m taking care of the -- the ministries, which means the different groups that are part of our community and work with the Hispanics here at St. Thomas More, so I train the leaders for the volunteer work they are doing at the Church. I work close to every ministry, guiding them, overviewing what they are doing, supporting them in different matters, with supplies, knowledge, any kind of support they need from the Parish I do. And helping them out, providing them all that they need. Another side is, kind of building bridges between the Hispanic members with the parish at large. I work close by other members of the staff from the parish. For instance, the faith development, they run all the classes for kids and youngs in English. But most of the parents from Hispanic young people, they only speak Spanish or maybe they speak just a few English, very limited. And whenever they need to communicate with the parents, I usually help them, with letters, phone calls, meetings, sometimes even doing some translations, as well, for different meetings or documents we are sending out to the Hispanic parishioners. Another side of this position…um… is running retreats and other workshops with the Hispanic members, so I’m-- I’m also taking care of those activities.
KJ-C: And are you the first person to hold…is this a new position? Or, how long has the Church been coordinating Hispanic ministry and having a Spanish mass? And-- Has that been ongoing for quite some time?
LR: Yes… this position has been for about, I think, for about 10 years, maybe. And I’m the fourth, that’s what I understand, I’m the fourth taking care of this position. And the Spanish mass here at St. Thomas More has been for a longer time, maybe more than fifteen years, almost twenty years, that’s…I have met Hispanic parishioners and they have… I was told about the experience they had when the Church wasn’t even located at this place but in another one, I don’t know exactly where but here at Chapel Hill. And they…they recall the old Church and the meetings and the mass at that time, so that means, maybe something between fifteen and twenty years before.
KJ-C: … And I was at the mass yesterday and I was curious the background of the priest. Is that the priest who usually gives the mass and do you have any idea how he learned Spanish, was that to do with serving in this Church, or…what his background is as well.
LR: Ok, well, Father Scott he’s now the pastor and he learned Spanish when he traveled to Mexico for an immersion. It was intentional – He traveled just to learn Spanish and he was immersed, totally immersed in Mexico and the Spanish culture for…I don’t know exactly… less than a year…and then here back in America America after that immersion and he has been practicing the Spanish with the Hispanic community. So... At the Diocese of Raleigh- which is where this parish belongs to – there are maybe more than twenty native Spanish-speaker priests and deacons working with the Hispanics all over the diocese. The diocese of Raleigh covers half of North Carolina, especially the east part. There is another diocese located over at Charlotte taking care of the east part of North Carolina. But especially the diocese of Raleigh had a program to bring native speakers – Spanish speakers, I mean – from Latin American countries, willing to serve as a priest here at North Carolina. And as a result of that program, there are, as I mentioned, maybe twenty to twenty-five priests that are Spanish-speakers. But there is also a program for Anglo-priests, supported by the diocese, to help them learn Spanish or improve their Spanish skills. And as part of that process, Father Scott took advantage and went to Mexico to learn Spanish, and now he serves the Hispanic community as well.
KJ-C: And the Hispanic community at this Church – is it…are the majority of people from one country, from one area, or is it, very mixed?
LR: Ok, the majority of people is coming from Mexico. And I understand, especially from Celaya
KJ-C: uh hm
LR: Most of them, the vast majority, I would say close by eighty to ninety five percent, most people, they are coming from Mexico and most of them from Celaya. …but we also have a lot of members from El Salvador, which is ( ) maybe the second largest population. And here we have a special community from Mexico, but they are not Spanish-speakers, they speak a dialect. And—and they are coming in large numbers now [laughs]…two years before when I was hired I met with one or two families from this community…but after that they keep coming, more and more families getting involved with the parish and asking for sacraments for their kids, so this is the…
KJ-C: Is this the…
LR: This is a growing community. Yeah.
KJ-C: Is it Otomí? Or, uh, do you know the name of the group?
LR: No, I’m not sure…They come from Paua…no…San Pablito.
KJ-C: Ok
LR: I don’t know if maybe you…[laughs]
KJ-C: …And may I ask where you are from originally?
LR: I am from Colombia, South America.
KJ-C: So, we’ve discussed this in discussing your post a little bit, but I’m interested in the services that the Church provides to the Hispanic community, outside of the religious services as well. I know there’s a health fair coming up? And so, what those services are, as well as how the Church has come about to organizing those and financing those, and what that process has been like, as far as you’re aware.
LR: Okay…beside the religious services we have an outreach service, not only for Hispanics, but for anyone…not only for Catholics, but for anyone, and outreach, we provide financial assistance…now we are focused on people around Chapel Hill/Carrboro alone. Two years before we were helping people from Durham, Hillsborough everywhere. But because of the economy, and the tough times everyone is experiencing now, now we decided to focus locally. The Hispanic population is– they are coming in a large number of people asking for financial assistance. We support this fund from the offertory. So we have a certain amount of money for every week to give away to those people requesting financial. We also have—we have relations with the Inter-faith Council, and we support the food pantry. We don’t give food here, at our Church, but we collect food every week, and we are supporting the Interfaith Council and also we are supporting CROP. But actually today, CROP is right here working, sorting food at our facility. And so, we are collecting for these two agencies and on a weekly basis from both centers. And everyone from our parish in need of food, we are sending them to the Inter-faith Council, or we are just including them at CROP’s list to receive-- to get food at a monthly basis when they are distributing food. We also have some partners in the outreach, along with Catholic Charities, which is an agency for the diocese. Here, at Chapel Hill, they don’t have an office but in Durham. We always direct people to go over to Catholic Charities’ office at Durham to get some support when maybe they need more than here, with our financial assistance budget, or ( ). Or maybe they need another kind of services that we here in our community does not provide, but our Church do, through Catholic Charities…I mean services like--
KJ-C: Would it be okay if we close this?
[KJ-C requests that they close the door because of the noise outside. The door is closed]
[Royo shares a brochure from Catholic Charities that describes the services that they offer. A copy of the brochure is included within the interview materials]
LR: So this is like, all this, emergency assistance, family support services, counseling, sometimes immigration assistance, disaster response…all those services are also from our Church, but not at this facility but at Durham. And those are available for Spanish-speakers, for there are Spanish-speakers at Durham. We also have connection with some agencies, like Acción Emprendedora, which is located at Durham. They teach people how to create [pause]… It’s especially for entrepreneurship, how to do business, how to create a business, how to run a business…all of this…how to promote and advertise, all related with small businesses. And they are doing their courses here, at our facilities. And the reason they are coming here is because they were teaching before in another place over at Carrboro, but they switched to our parish especially because the Spanish people told them they feel more confident coming by the church, rather than some other places. And I was told from the leaders of this agency that they are very, very happy for having the opportunity to hold these courses here, at the St. Thomas More because the response from the community has been very great. Yeah. And, we are also connected with El Centro Hispano, and also with El Futuro. Because many people when they are in need, the first place that they knock the door is at the Church. And we don’t have professionals to help with psychotherapy or maybe help with drug abuse or…but, we are kind of first responders, with people just come by and let us know…’I’m in this and that situation’, ‘myself, or maybe my son, or my husband, or whatever, or whoever’. And we direct them to those places, like El Futuro, or maybe, sometimes, El Centro Hispano.
KJ-C: Well, that leads nicely into one of my other questions which was…What do you think -- How do you think that the Church plays a particular role for-- for migrants in the migration experience?
LR: Well, the particular role, for our Church, and maybe for any other Church, is first, providing spiritual support. And most of the Hispanic people coming by our area, are Catholics, or were raised as Catholics, even they later, they switched to other religions. And sometimes, because of the experiences they have been going through, sometimes very touch and bad experiences, they-- they lapse from their faith for a while. But when they come by again to the Church, they find a revival, I would say. They find the Church and their community of faith a very supportive place where they find relief for all the stress they have been through. And that spiritual support is very important, as-- it’s a way to get connected again with their past, with their culture. And I think that’s the most important mission that we as a Church have here with the migrant people. But, also, I would say that the social network -- but not this, like Facebook, [laughs] or any of that, that is kind of a virtual social network. This is a one-on-one, in-person social network. And people … get to know other people form their own countries, or maybe their home city here in America…And-And I hear stories, frequently, and people telling me, ‘okay, I met, this person, which is from my country, from my -- not only my city but my neighborhood, that I never met when we were living in my country but now, we found, [laughs] yeah, we have found here that wow… I never imagined before find something from my hometown here. And the church is the place where the people get together and they can find others…And they know – and they know that. And that’s why many people just come by the church and ask me – ‘Do you know any others from Guatemala” “Do you know” And I say “Yes, I know, there are some families, these are their numbers” …Okay - they get connected. And that’s-that’s very, very important. And people can find a very supportive community from other members of our Church. And third, I would say, when people don’t have legal papers, many, many doors are just closed to them. Not only for adults, but for young adults, when they are done with high school, they are done in many ways. There is no option for many of them, which is a shame. But the Church, we don’t care about papers, legal papers or not. And there are opportunities to those people to grow, not only in a spiritual way, but in many other ways here. And they keep learning, they keep doing good things, serving others. And that’s great because people, people can feel they are still valuable, they are worthy, they can do many good things, even if they are not legal. And that’s, that’s important.
KJ-C: Um, I was also interested in special feast days that the church has started to celebrate, like Our Lady of Guadalupe and other, perhaps other events that come up during the year and how-- how the celebration of those events got started, what usually happens, how the reaction of the rest of the community has been to that change?
LR: The biggest feast of course is Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is mostly a Mexican feast but has-- has become a feast for every Spanish speaker. And we celebrate las mañanitas, which is a serenade the night before, the vigil, before the feast. And people from the community, they donate food and drinks, and they bring musicians, as in mariachi bands, and other musical bands to sing to Our Lady of Guadalupe. And maybe this is the biggest event we host all year long. Nothing to compare with this celebration. We-- In a single night, we can host about two thousand people, just coming [laughs]. Not at the same time everyone but people is, back and forth, from nine at night until 1:00 am, just to pray, and sing, and share with others. And that’s a big, big event. And also the feast, the day of the feast, we usually have the mass and some performance, especially traditional dances. And we have food…Yeah, there is always food involved in any Hispanic event. If there is no food, there is no feast [laughs].
KJ-C: So with such high numbers, are you seeing people from neighboring communities and parishes also coming to the Church for that event, do you think?
LR: Yes of course. For that event there are people from everywhere coming by our Church. It’s not only for parishioners. And we understand that some people just come by that day, and disappear the whole year. But, that- that’s fine. I mean, that’s fine in…Some people they are not really connected, maybe with any church, but they feel they want to honor our Lady of Guadalupe, mostly because of a cultural reason, not a s-- not for a religious reason. Maybe for many Mexicans Our Lady of Guadalupe is not about Catholic or [laughs] even non-Catholic. Yesterday, I was talking to a Baptist and she said ‘Yeah, I love our Lady of Guadalupe. ‘Okay [laughs] …I….Maybe your Baptist Pastor won’t be very happy [laughs] listening to you speaking that way. But it’s that way. It’s not about religion, it’s about traditions, it’s about Mexican culture. And that’s why there are many people, they are not just parishioners, and maybe they are not a regular, at least at our liturgies, but they just show up for our Lady of Guadalupe Feast. Okay – ( ). And this celebration has been a very good way to build bridges among the Hispanic and the Anglo community. I understand it’s not the typical Anglo celebration. For many Anglo people it’s kind of overwhelming attending a crowd-y mass with loud music and people, okay wearing, [laughs] costumes, or – traditional, better, not costumes, but traditional clothes. It’s maybe, it’s not exactly the way Anglo people celebrate their religious faiths. But they have learned and they respect and they are attending- in a few numbers, but they are coming, and they are participating in larger and larger numbers, year by year, which is, is good. And they are very supportive. Because there are some—some Anglo parishioners, they-- they volunteer, and help in all the things we have to set and they do. And they are here, and they help us in different things. Which is good. (26:49)
KJ-C: And there’s also – there’s a parish school that’s attached to the Church.
LR: um hm
KJ-C: And do you see members of the Hispanic community – are their children attending that school, as well? And does the school-- has the school started to provide services to – to meet perhaps language issues and other issues that may arise?
LR: We do, we do have some Spanish families with their children attending St. Thomas More, the school. The school is mostly an Anglo school. They are—They are taught in English and all of the services are provided in English. [Pauses] But, we – we try to help Spanish-speakers to get involved with the schools. And, we have some scholarships available, for parishioners, for Spanish parishioners. And we also have some parishioners, willing to support financially, Spanish families willing to bring their kids to our schools. And sometimes we are able to provide a fifty percent scholarship, in some cases, for Hispanics. And it is – it is our goal to increase the number of Hispanic speaker…families, Spanish-speaker families at our school. Because we are a multicultural community and we want a multicultural school as well. Maybe at this point we can’t offer a bilingual school, but we are not closed to that choice. Maybe in the future we would be available to provide a bilingual school, but not at this point.
KJ-C: Well and this is going back a little, but you had mentioned the music in the feast day celebrations, and I witnessed the music in the mass yesterday, so I was curious just to learn more about the choir, and the selection of the music that they use in the mass, and who’s involved in that as well.
LR: This is very interesting, because, we have a choir for the Spanish mass which is directed by an Anglo [laughs]. And also one of the leaders is – is also Anglo, maybe as you – as you saw yesterday. And this choir is playing a most universal music, it’s not exactly a Hispanic music. But we also have another group, musical group. This group does not perform at the Spanish mass on Sundays, but for many other events here at the Parish. And they are more-- more Hispanic in the way they play the music, and the songs they sing, is more [pauses] I would say like ‘Latin’ [laughs]…. More like Latin Music. So we have these two different groups at the parish. But I like the way that it is. Because maybe just a few parishes or Churches they have Anglos guiding or directing the Spanish musical group [laughs]. Which you say, ‘how is this possible?’ [laughs]. But the director, she is – she studies Spanish, but she’s not very fluent in Spanish, but she’s the director [laughs]. And the other lady, she is fluent in Spanish, and they work as a team with the choir. And it’s working well, as you heard yesterday. It’s good.
KJ-C: So it sounds like there’s been a lot of collaboration among the members of the Parish and among the different communities within the Parish on all – on all fronts.
LR: Yeah…we are…we are considering ourselves just as one community. Doesn’t matter if you speak Spanish or English. And at this time we are—we are creating bonds in between Anglo and Spanish speakers and doing - trying to do activities together. For instance, tomorrow in the evening hours we have set a meeting with the Anglos and Hispanics that are doing hospital visitation. And we have two different groups, because of the language, but we also meet together once in a while to share experiences and to set goals and to set some activities together. And that’s what we want to work – not separated, but as-- as one community with the same vision, the same mission, the same goals, but in a different language.
KJ-C: Wonderful. Well, those are all my questions, but I don’t know if there is anything that I didn’t ask you that you would like to add, or any questions you have, or?
LR: [pauses] Okay maybe I would say. Um…The Spanish members are growing faster than the Anglo members of our community. And, [pauses] at this time—I will – Before you were here I was looking at the membership report from February 2012 – [Royo shows membership report from February 2012 on his computer] And, as you can see here, we have 2,356 families as active families for our Church. And from the Spanish households, there are 1,318. This means, we have more, at this point we have more Spanish families as members. Maybe, four or five years before, the future was different. Maybe the Spanish members were forty percent. But at this point, more than fifty percent are Spanish. And, another example, baptisms. You know, Catholics, we baptize children. And, on a monthly basis, we have about five, maybe it’s five to seven baptisms in English, for English-speaker families. And, from the Spanish side, we are talking about twenty-five every month. And, it’s not once in a while. I’m talking about a monthly basis. And this is a trend that is real and is growing [laughs]. Which means, I think, maybe in about four to five years, the Spanish population of the parish is going to be even bigger than now. More than now. Now there is about fifty three percent, fifty five percent. But maybe in about four to five years, will be sixty percent, or even bigger. The Spanish population is growing around here. A good way to measure how fast it’s growing is through the Church [laughs] and the services. Also of course through UNC hospital, and, you know, they are also growing. They have to increase the services for Spanish-speakers, because they are coming and coming and coming, a huge number.
KJ-C: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for your time today. I very much appreciate it.
LR: Well, I am very much happy to help you. And I hope you could understand [laughs].
KJ-C: Oh completely.
LR: My English with a very strong accent.
KJ-C: No, it’s excellent! [laughs] … Thank you so much.
LR: Okay.