GOSHEN, Ind. (CNS) — Felipe Garcia and Maria Morales and their children are originally from Mexico City. Like so many immigrants from all over the world, they came to the United States seeking a better life.
They found not only that better life, but also a deeper relationship with the Lord through their struggles to get here; they also found it through their new home parish, St. John the Evangelist in Goshen.
Morales was 19 and Garcia 24 when they met through his sister and began dating. Two years later, they were married in the Catholic Church, and children soon followed: Laura, now 40; Jose de Jesus, who died soon after birth; Jasmine, 36; Araceli, 34; Naomi, 32; and Yareli, 26.
Garcia first came to the U.S. in 1997 and started working in a local factory. A year later, Morales joined him, and a year after that the children joined them. The couple said that they always attended Mass together before coming to the U.S., but they weren’t involved in their church.
Garcia said one of the first things he did when he arrived was to look for a Catholic church. He said it was “one way to give thanks to the Lord for everything — for everything (I had) to pass through to get here.”
Morales agreed. “The only way to keep your faith strong is through the church, and through the church to give thanks for coming to the U.S.”
It was tough for the couple to be separated from one another for that year, and then as parents, to be separated from their children.
Morales said, “This is a situation where you have to trust God more than anything. You have to know that if you trust in him and things are not OK now, our hope in Jesus is that they will be better.”
Their oldest daughter, Laura, was present for an interview with Today’s Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, and she interpreted for her parents. She said she was 19 when her mother left for the U.S. — but Yareli was only 5 or 6. She said the older children tried to be strong.
“We knew how difficult it was for them — more than it was for us — so we didn’t want them to worry about us,” Laura said. “We were feeling that God was sending people to watch over us.”
When asked how they kept their 41-year marriage strong, Morales replied that marriages may have problems — but being in the church helps. They also said that they always seemed to find people who would remind them to continue attending church and maintaining their relationship with the Lord.
“We consider them like angels. God is using people to show the only way to keep strong through hard times is to stay close to him,” Morales said.
Garcia said the marriage commitment is a promise, and remembering that promise helps keep him strong in good times and bad. “I always feel God provides the strength to keep (us) together,” he said.
When the couple first started attending St. John the Evangelist in the late ’90s, it offered no Spanish Mass. Then Deacon Ricardo Medina was assigned to the parish to assist the growing Hispanic congregation and assist with the celebration of the Mass in Spanish.
The couple helped form a Spanish choir. They also helped the deacon with baptisms and weddings, and grew to be close friends with him.
Morales and Garcia began attending diocesan retreats and also have taken part in a Levantate (Arise) small-group gathering.
This past September they went on a couples’ retreat in Chicago, which “helped us to find out how to live our marriage the way God intended and it gave us the tools for testing ourselves and see where we need help,” Morales said. They are still involved with Levantate around in Goshen in nearby Catholic churches.
The couple has advice for staying strong in the faith.
Offer work and prayers to God and he will provide for you, said Morales. “Stay close, look for retreats and everything the church provides and keep going because otherwise you’ll be far from him. Stay close and he’ll provide the answers.”
Garcia said Catholics must remember the Fourth Commandment — to keep the Sabbath holy — so attending Mass is an obligation.
“Do it to give thanks for everything you have. It’s very important. I tell people, ‘Don’t forget to take time for serving the Lord — it’s the only way to give thanks for all the blessings we have,'” he said.
Laura laughed and said, “Even though we’re grown, he still calls to check if we went to Mass or not.”
Federow writes for Today’s Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.