As Minnesota congregations become more diverse, churches struggle to find Latino clergy

Twenty-six years ago, when Jacqueline Belzer immigrated to the United States, there were only two churches in the Twin Cities that served Catholics who wanted to worship in Spanish.

Back then, the Mexico native used to split her time between Minneapolis and St. Paul, serving immigrant and minority communities as a social justice organizer with the faith-based organizing coalition ISAIAH.

At the time, thousands of Latino immigrants were streaming into the state in search of better economic opportunities, and the first Spanish-language congregations in the Twin Cities — Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in west St. Paul and Ascension Catholic Church in north Minneapolis — were struggling to accommodate the influx of people, most of whom were practicing Catholics who didn’t speak English.

In collaboration with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Belzer and other leaders in the community organized programs that trained Spanish-speaking parishioners as lay leaders, people who then branched out to other churches. As a result, in recent decades the community has grown from having two Catholic churches in the Twin Cities featuring Spanish-speaking ministries to 22. Today, those parishes serve more than 25,000 worshippers each week.
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