HOUSTON (CNS) — A special Mass in Houston for 1,000 Hispanic women at the Catholic Charismatic Center was celebrated to recognize the 217 women graduating from a five-year program called the Asociacion Mexicana de Superacion Integral de la Familia.

Founded by a group of Catholic laywomen in Mexico more than 40 years ago, the educational program for immigrant women teaches English and provides classes on spiritual development, health exams and other topics.

Known as the Mexican Association of Integral Improvement of the Family in English, it is best known as AMSIF. It was introduced to the Houston-Galveston area in 2013 through the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston’s Office of Hispanic Ministry.

First starting in Houston at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, the program has quickly expanded and now St. Leo the Great Catholic Church and Prince of Peace Catholic Church have some of the largest groups of participants. More than 1,000 Houston-area women participate and meet at 26 Catholic churches as “Advancement Family Centers” in the archdiocese.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston was the main celebrant of the Mass, which took place May 24 and marked one of his first major public events since suffering a stroke in March

A family from St. Augustine Catholic Church was among those celebrating with grandmother Elena Lopez, granddaughter Elsi Moreno and great-granddaughters Raquel Cerda and Esmeralda Figueroa who were interviewed by a Telemundo television crew.

“We are three generations of family learning together. AMSIF is a wonderful program,” Moreno said.

Also being interviewed by Telemundo and Univision, Fabiola Veytia, the AMSIF coordinator for the United States, congratulated the graduates. “We are here to help women realize that they matter, that they count in life. It’s important for them to help their spouses, their families and their communities.”

Brenda Valadez, a parishioner from St. Dominic Catholic Church in east Harris County by Sheldon Lake, said she suffered from depression despite adoring her newborn baby girl.

She didn’t feel like doing anything and wouldn’t take care of herself until she made herself attend classes at her church sponsored by AMSIF.

“Now I’m even taking the beauty workshop about hair and makeup. It helps me feel much better about myself,” she said.

The program was introduced to help immigrant women achieve freedom and hope in both their spiritual and daily lives, organizers said. Every week, volunteer facilitators meet with participants and provide training in areas including applying the Gospel in everyday life, improving family communication, time management, cooking and nutrition, personal and family health, arts and crafts, and basic computer skills.

Facilitator Elena Agostini said, “Many of these women beforehand felt like they had no value or rights. The impact of this program is amazing because it helps the women become closer to God and enables them to be more understanding and caring toward their families.”

Agostini, along with AMSIF Regional Coordinator Linda Maldonado, were among AMSIF women who traveled to Philadelphia in 2015 to see Pope Francis in his visit to the United States. In their white dresses with blue scarves, the group of women caught the eye of the pope and met him personally where he prayed over them for their association.

“The pope and his prayer were very moving and gave us the incentive to continue our teaching,” Agostini said.

Maldonado said, “The AMSIF program looks to enable women in every aspect of their lives — spiritually, physically and socially. We strive for women to become their best version of women of God, as wives and mothers, and get involved in their parish and their community.”

“Our goal is to help families become Christ-centered where they can experience happiness and unity. We look to achieve this through our weekly meetings and program, but we always emphasize friendship and becoming a community of friends who can share everyday joys as well as hardships,” she said.

Lazaro Contreras, director of the archdiocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry, which offers support to AMSIF, said: “We recently experienced the V National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry where ‘ministry to families’ was one of the ministerial areas for discussion. It placed great emphasis on the accompaniment of families and their children.”

He added, “In our local church, we feel very blessed for the resources provided to families through our pastoral offices, parishes and through organizations like AMSIF.”

“The women grow and nurture themselves in these programs, sharing with their spouses and children at home,” he told the Texas Catholic Herald, the archdiocesan newspaper. “They receive the benefits of the new person they have become, thanks to the support of one another and the facilitators, their personal growth, and in particular, the personal relationship with Christ that they develop.”

 

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Zuniga is on the staff of the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.