When University Catholic students went on a mission trip to Peru over spring break in March 2020, the experience sparked interest among many.
“All the liturgies and everything were in Spanish,” said Father Gervan Menezes, University Catholic chaplain. “We had some of our students who were able to communicate well, but they said that they never really had an opportunity to participate in the liturgy in Spanish before.
“They asked if we could then start to have one weekday Mass in Spanish, and I said absolutely,” he said.
Now, every Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., Father Menezes offers a Spanish Mass to University Catholic students and the community at the Cathedral of the Incarnation.
It was a Mass already well attended by Nashville Cursillo group members, which includes several Spanish speakers. To accommodate them, Father Menezes would still say the Mass in English but translate his homily for the Spanish speakers. Now, he does the same for the non-Spanish speakers attending.
There are also guides for non-Spanish speakers to follow along and participate in the responses, he said.
“University Catholic wants to be a welcome place for everybody,” Father Menezes said. “By having this Mass, it gives the students a culture shock and helps them to say, ‘This is different, but different is OK. Maybe it’s not how I pray, but there is a beauty in that, and I’m called to appreciate the beauty.’
“That’s the Church,” he concluded. “And the Church is bigger than just you and me.”
Having the opportunity to attend a regular Spanish Mass is something that has been appreciated by many students, particularly those who grew up in primarily Spanish-speaking households. One such student is Maria Aguilera, a 2021 graduate of Vanderbilt University, whose family is Salvadoran. Not long after Father Menezes took over as chaplain, she had mentioned a possibility of a Spanish Mass to him.
“It was a big ask I knew at first, and Father G’s response was that he did not see this being an investment we could sustain beyond myself and him, so we needed more community buy in,” Aguilera explained. “After the mission trip to Peru, many of the community members, after having celebrated Mass in Spanish over there, asked Father G again for a Spanish UCat Mass, which led to more investment from the greater UCat community. I was very happy that this was not only a desire in my heart, but in the hearts of the UCat community as well.
“Being able to attend a UCat Mass that was celebrated in Spanish was a powerful moment for me. It was a moment where I could see my culture, through language, shared with my faith community,” she continued. “I could pray in the language I prayed at home with my family, and on the days when homesickness was heavy, a UCat Mass celebrated in Spanish brought some peace and consolation.
“This was an opportunity for me to share my culture with the UCat community and for others to witness something they may not have experienced otherwise,” she concluded. “It was a chance to come together as brothers and sisters in the Body and Blood of Christ; to remember that our faith transcends language, culture, and other barriers. At the center of it all is Christ.”
Martin Aleman, a junior at Vanderbilt University, was also grateful for the opportunity having transferred as an international student from Panama City, Panama.
“Spanish had always been the only language I used through my daily life until I came to school in the U.S.,” Aleman said. “I started learning English in elementary school. Fortunately, I was able to attend a school with a solid English program growing up. This allowed me to become very comfortable in the language even though I only used it during my classes.
“I am very grateful for the opportunity to regularly attend a Mass in Spanish. Ever since I first started going to Mass in English when I came to study abroad, it has been difficult to learn the prayers and just maintain a complete understanding of the Mass,” he said. “For instance, the names of the apostles are a little different, which can be confusing at times. Therefore, it is very nice having the opportunity to attend a Mass in Spanish where I can feel more at home and better comprehend the word of the Lord.”