For this series, I’ve spent a good deal of the past few months reporting on the growing Hispanic community in Jerome. So, one Sunday in August, I went to the Spanish Mass at St. Jerome Catholic Church.
I got there early, when many of the pews were still empty, but the church filled quickly. Soon, several hundred people were there — just for a regular Sunday Mass, not any particular holy day. And people of all ages, too — plenty of young families and even some single people who appeared to be in their 20s.
You don’t see this everywhere. Many Catholic and mainline Protestant congregations in this country have been getting smaller and grayer for decades, as young Americans either become secular or move toward evangelical churches.
One of the first things that struck me was the space itself. The churches I grew up with are imposing stone or brick structures, with huge stained-glass windows, ornate carvings and stonework, statues on the walls and a stronger sense of physical separation between the parishioners and the altar. St. Jerome has a more open and somehow more inviting feel. Maybe the semicircle layout of the pews around the altar has something to do with it.
At the points in the service where I expected the organ to play, a group of guitarists played instead, and everyone clapped in rhythm. Apparently, both the guitars and the clapping are common in Mexican churches.
Between my on-again, off-again attempts to learn Spanish and a couple of years studying Latin, I understood about half of Father Rob Irwin’s homily. Father Rob is an English-speaking American, but he has been to Mexico and his Spanish sounds pretty fluent. He has a more conversational and audience-engaging style than some priests I’ve seen. As he spoke, he stepped down from the platform and walked around, and he pointed to people and asked them questions. At one point, I could tell he was talking about helping the poor and promoting the church’s soup kitchen.
He also spent a minute or two introducing our freelance photographer, Joy Pruitt, pointing her out and explaining what she was doing. She got a round of applause from the congregation, which was nice — not an everyday experience for people in our line of work.
The basic structure of Mass is the same everywhere you go, apparently no matter what language you’re speaking. When everyone held hands and started praying, I knew it was the Our Father, even if I didn’t recognize most of the words.
When it came to the sign of peace, and everyone shook hands with the people next to them and said “Paz de Cristo,” I didn’t need help with either the translation of the words or the meaning behind them.