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Catholic Voice
CURRENT ISSUE:  August 8, 2011
VOL. 49, NO. 14   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Pro-life billboards spark ‘effective’ conversation
Sisters bid farewell to Oakland Diocese
Rigorous dedication for boys’ choir
Seminarians learn and teach
firsthand at Catholic Charities
AT LEFT: Seminarian Alberto Perez works on pronunciation in an English as a second language class.
RIGHT: Seminarian Luis Lopez helps a student during an English writing class.
José Luis Aguirre photos

Learning partnership

Vocations office:

Catholic Charities of the East Bay: www.cceb.org

Seminarians are getting an up-close look at the work of Catholic Charities of the East Bay through a partnership between the Diocese of Oakland’s Vocations Office and Catholic Charities.

So close, in fact, that eight seminarians recently spent the better part of a week involved in one of three sites of Catholic Charities. Two spent time in classrooms, side by side, with English-learners and citizenship class students in Richmond.

For the future priests of the diocese, it’s not only a chance “to introduce them to the work of Catholic Charities,” said Father Larry D’Anjou, former vocations director, but to involve them in the Church’s greater mission of serving the poor.

“We want them to know not only in theory, but in practice,” said Father D’Anjou.

Help to navigate
a new land

Up a flight of stairs in a classroom at Grace Lutheran Church, within sight of Richmond’s Civic Center, the steps to a better life in America are taken, word by word, sentence by sentence, essay by essay.

For more than 25 years, Catholic Charities of the East Bay has been teaching English as a Second Language and other adult education classes at the English Action Center in Richmond. More than 5,000 immigrants and refugees have improved their English proficiency, prepared for the citizenship test, studied math and learned computer skills. Some have prepared for careers here; others have gained enough to hold onto a job.

In classrooms at the Grace Lutheran Church, within sight of the Civic Center complex, they come, men and women, young and not so young, to learn English. Their reasons vary: One man from Central America said he needs English for work. At his last job, he said, the boss had to lay off one worker. The one with the better English skills remained employed. This man, the one let go, came to class. One young woman smiled and said she is learning English “for my son.”

Glenda Pawsey has taught at the English Action Center for a dozen years. Her classroom is a first stop for English-learners, who attend class three hours a day, four days a week. It’s typical, she said, for a student to stay a year, “a lot stay for two years.” They fill notebooks with dates, names and advice, such as which radio stations offer all-news formats.

Treats gathered on back tables on this particular Thursday. A celebration was planned for later that morning on this last day of the semester. A note at the bottom of the board offered these encouraging words: Summer school June 20.

A well-worn Lao-English, English-Lao dictionary sat before one eager student.
Students were writing the words they’d learned this semester on bright sheets of pink paper. They would form the basis for a game to be played during the celebration.

“Afraid is a new word for me,” one offered. More words followed: Raindrop, surprise, puzzle, plenty and lonesome.

“That means alone and not happy,” Pawsey said, shaking her head to emphasize the not, as she wrote it on the board.

— Michele Jurich
Alberto Perez, who has just completed his second year of theology studies at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, was assigned to the Richmond center, and helped out in two programs: Immigration and Naturalization classes and the English Action Center, better known as English as a Second Language.

He soon realized the programs are “not only about studying, but also, Catholic Charities wants all to realize that every person is capable for progress in their own lives.”

Perez, who has never been a teacher, said, “I learned that it is not only about teaching, but teachers were very encouraging to the people in the classroom; they want all students to advance academically, but also to foster a self-sufficiency attitude in their lives.”

In addition, he said, “I learned that it is about helping but doing it with an open mind and service; ultimately, to share our skills with one another.”

Luis Lopez, who had taught for 10 years in his native El Salvador and will begin theology studies at St. Patrick Seminary, assisted in the citizenship class.

“I helped a few people to know American history,” he said. “We read and talked about the Founding Fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. However, the most interesting issue for people was to know about geography and the U.S. borders with other countries.

“I really enjoyed this experience and the time that I shared with these people. Finally, the vivid images of older people smiling, looking to a better tomorrow, will remain forever in my heart.”

In their short time with them, the seminarians made a positive impact on Karen Wilairat’s intermediate English students.

“I did a short review lesson on a reading about Gloria Estefan, the famous singer and songwriter from Cuba,” Wilairat said. “There was a brief time that Luis and Alberto were able to help me when the students were working in groups, practicing with reading the story and then asking questions and giving answers about the story. I had Luis work with the group of students who knew the lesson quite well and were ready to practice with the questions.”

They also showed themselves to be enthusiastic in the classroom.

“We also sang the song ‘Celebration’ by Kool and the Gang, and Luis and Alberto joined in,” Wilairat said. “Luis must have known the song because he was singing loudly in the back of the room with a lot of spirit.”

That enthusiasm for the work of Catholic Charities is what the organization hopes will burn bright for these men, and others like them.

“We take the opportunity to build relationships with folks who, ultimately, will become pastors,” said Catholic Charities Chief Executive Officer Solomon Belette. “This is the opportunity to help them understand who we are, and what we do.” In doing, so he said, they hope, “Catholic Charities becomes a central part of their ministry.”

“It’s helpful to be introduced as part of their studies how Catholic Charities fits into the social service ministry of the church,” Belette said. It’s important for them to see how Catholic Charities’ work “ties into the fundamentals of Catholic social teaching, human dignity, solidarity with the poor, the options for the poor. All of the things we talk about. I think it helps them to see them in the action of Catholic Charities,” he said.

After their week of service ended, the seminarians returned to Catholic Charities for a debriefing session.

“I see this program continuing,” Belette said. It has been offered at both one- and two-week sessions; “It’s better at least two weeks,” said Belette. “I’m very committed to it continuing. It’s a great partnership between Catholic Charities and the vocations office.”

Will it help them in their future?

“The experience to help people must help us to be a better person and consequently a better priest,” Lopez said. “I believe the main feature of all Christians is service. We were born to serve. Many years ago, my religion teacher taught me ‘If you don’t live to serve, you aren’t good to live.’It was my main motivation I came to the seminary and to become a priest.”

Perez agreed. “I think that this experience is helpful for my future because it helps me to be sensitive with the people and their needs,” he said.

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