A Diverse Claretian Community

diverse claretians

San Gabriel: The fašade of San
Gabriel Mission Church, which
dates back to 1805. The
Claretians arrived at the
Mission in 1908 and
have restored,
reorganized and
rejuvenated the
Mission into new
spiritual life.

Each Sunday the faithful profess their beliefs to be “catholic,” that is, universal. Nowhere is that more apparent than at the historic San Gabriel Mission, a Claretian-run parish in Los Angeles.

More than 3,500 families call San Gabriel their home parish. The tri-lingual community includes English and Spanish speakers, as well as a Vietnamese population. The connectedness of these diverse groups forming one faith community is a testament to the power of faith, and it points to a future full of hope for a church that continues to grow and embrace many cultures.

Holy Week is a distinctive time at the Mission. The variety of liturgical options there are 14 services scheduled between Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday - and a large number of worshippers put a strain on the Claretian staff members, who enjoy the tremendous workload of shepherding so many. Father Ralph Berg, C.M.F., pastor at the Mission, says the unique mixture of people there surprises even him sometimes.

“We try to make unity out of our diversity,” he says. “It’s amazing our differences actually bring our community closer, because we try to understand one another.”

To accommodate a community that speaks three different languages, the Claretians make use of San Gabriel’s landmark 1805 Mission Church as well as the newer, larger Chapel of the Annunciation.

Groups in the parish gain reverence and respect for each other through the practice of celebrating liturgy together and separately. The Holy Thursday Mass is one of only four liturgies during the year that is concelebrated in all three languages. Prayers and readings in Spanish are followed by another reading in English. The Gospel is proclaimed in Vietnamese, and Claretians who are fluent in all three languages offer their reflections and prayers throughout the celebration.

“It’s inspiring to see our entire community gathered as one,” says Claretian Father Arnold Gonzales. “Hearing each others’ language is important; we may not understand it all, but being together is what really matters.”

On Holy Saturday, the Mission’s Easter Vigil celebration begins at 7:30 p.m. as the entire faith community gathers outside the Chapel to light the Easter fire. After an opening prayer, English speakers process to the Mission Church, Spanish speakers file into the Chapel, and the Vietnamese move to the parish center for Mass. Each group welcomes the light of Christ in their own language, with their own Paschal Candle.

“Three liturgies, three languages, all at the same time,” Father Berg says. “To me, it is a sign that no matter how different we may seem, people share some very basic ideas about hope, faith, life, and love.”

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