By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

PHILADELPHIA -If you are looking for programs in Hispanic ministry at Holy Innocents Parish in the Juniata Park section of Philadelphia Ani Figueroa is the go-to person, which means she’s pretty busy because Hispanics have become the majority ethnicity in the parish.

Originally from Salina, Puerto Rico, and formerly Ani Martinez, she and her husband Efram have been married 42 years. They are the parents of four adult children – Denise, Brenda, Efram Jr. and Yadera – and they have “six wonderful grandchildren,” she said.

The family has been living in Philadelphia for about 30 years.When the children were growing up Efram worked days and Ani worked nights for a pharmaceutical firm packaging pills.

Now her out-of-house work is strictly volunteering for the parish. They’ve only been members of Holy Innocents for the past five years; before that they worshipped at Our Lady of Hope and St. Veronica parishes.

Figueroa was always church-going, but as with many people, it was out of a sense of duty because as a Catholic you are supposed to go to Sunday Mass.

This changed shortly after she came to Philadelphia through attendance at charismatic renewal services at St. Boniface Church, which led to a profound encounter with the Lord.

“Now I dedicate myself to service to God, it’s not just going to church,” she said. She is a lector at the Sunday Spanish-language Mass, and, as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, she visits the sick and the home-bound.

Just about every evening sees her at the parish for one reason or another. She coordinates the Hispanic RCIA Program, which has about 10 candidates this year; she leads the Sunday night Hispanic charismatic group, which has between 30 and 40 members; and also the Cursillo, with about 25 members.

Advent is a special time of year, and from Dec. 15 though Dec. 23 she is coordinating the annual las Posadas program, the traditional Hispanic custom. Starting Dec. 15 each evening, pilgrims from the parish will process to various homes, representing the inns of Bethlehem. Those representing the Holy Family will seek lodging and eventually be admitted to a home.

Of course, las Posadas is just the beginning of the Christmas celebration because in Hispanic culture Jan. 6, the Feast of the Three Kings, is very important, and Figueroa will be busy with that, too. But the entire Christmas celebration is important to her.

“Christmas is the day Jesus was born and that started everything – that’s the way I feel,” she said.

While most of her work at Holy Innocents is among Hispanic Catholics, she also works with the parish community as a whole, especially with programs that benefit the entire parish. For example, “We get together for flea markets twice a year,” she said. “I feel honored and blessed to work for the parish, and I think our church attendance is growing.”

Service to God extends beyond the parish events. In her own home, daily Bible reading is her custom and because of a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin, the rosary.

But at the end of the day, it comes down to God.

“God is my life. I can’t live without God in my life,” she said. “It’s wonderful for me. I pray and sometimes it is not for what I want but what God wants for me.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.