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Cristo Rey marks 5 decades of worship

By MATTHEW MILLER, Lansing State Journal

LANSING, MI, Nov. 23, 2011 (AP): In the fall of 1961, the Catholic Diocese of Lansing purchased a former Methodist church on the corner of Washington Avenue and Main Street.

Kneelers were added to the pews, an altar installed at the front, and, on the last Sunday in October, it was consecrated as Cristo Rey Church, envisioned as a spiritual home for the city’s Spanish-speaking migrants and immigrants.

``Everybody was jubilant,'' said Manuel Delgado, who spent a portion of Sunday afternoon pouring out cups of punch at a reception held for Cristo Rey's 50th anniversary.

John Roy Castillo, J.D.

``Everybody started coming in to church and we just filled that place up to capacity every time.''

The church was filled to capacity on Sunday, as well, as Bishop Earl Boyea celebrated the Mass in Spanish.

It’s a different building now, the fourth one that Cristo Rey has inhabited. When the Rev. Fred Thelen, the pastor since 1993, went to recognize the founders, he said recognizing a single group didn’t seem sufficient, but he began by asking those who had been around since the 1940s and 1950s to stand.

``It’s never come easy for Cristo Rey church to really continue on as a parish and a community,” Thelen said later.

``We’ve had to overcome a lot of obstacles. It’s really a great celebration that we’re here, we’re alive.''

The first obstacle was a highway, Interstate 496, which runs over the spot where the first Cristo Rey once stood.

But the church’s leaders used the demolition as an opportunity.

“We began to see a lot of people coming in who needed help, food, housing, all kinds of assistance,” Delgado said, “and as a group we began to talk about having a combination of a church and a social place for people to come in.”

Which is how Cristo Rey Community Center came to be, as ably directed by John Roy Castillo, J.D.

The congregation moved to north Lansing—“We put dots on the map where all of the Spanish-speaking families were, and it really concentrated around Grand River and High Street,” said the Rev. Kenneth Faiver, Cristo Rey’s first pastor—and what had been a church became a hybrid of sorts, a chapel and a social services center, but also a center of social action and community development.

Dignarda Calero and her family were among the thousands of Cubans who fled that country in the early years of Fidel Castro’s regime.

They arrived in Lansing in 1963.

“We find in Cristo Rey the peace and family we don’t have here in the United States,” she said.

They also found some of the economic security they’d been looking for. By 1964, Faiver had helped her husband find a job at Oldsmobile.

According to a brief history of the parish prepared by The Julian Samora Research Institute at Michigan State University, the hybrid arrangement foundered on administrative conflicts.

By the mid-1970s, members of the church community were asking the diocese to re-establish a parish church.

Cristo Rey moved in 1979 to the former Capitol City Baptist Church on South Washington Avenue.

Though the congregation often had “very few resources economically speaking. We’ve developed the art of doing a lot with a little over the years,” Thelen said. The mortgage on that church was paid off in 1995, and the community began looking for a larger space to accommodate its thousands of members, moving to its present location on Miller Road 13 years ago.

If many of the original members were migrant workers who had dropped out of the migrant stream, it's their children and grandchildren who attend now.

The church offers services in both Spanish and English.

At the same time, there are new immigrants who, Delgado said, “kind of revive the faith here at Cristo Rey, and for that we’re very grateful.”

When Guillermo López arrived in Lansing in 1984, he said he attended a number of Catholic churches.

``They were nice, it was fine,'' said López, who serves on the Lansing Board of Education.

“Coming to Cristo Rey it was more like family, a lot of things, food, language, music. It seemed more like home.”

Information from: Lansing State Journal, http://www.lansingstatejournal.com


Copyright © 1989 to 2011 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 11/29/11 16:41:35 -0800.





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