When Mario and Paola Martinez were asked by their bishop last year to co-direct a new office for Marriage and Family Life, they didn’t hesitate to say yes, seeing the invite as an opportunity not only to serve their community, but to do so while offering an example of both lay and Latino leadership.
“It is such a joy to have the blessing of co-leading this Marriage and Family Life office,” Paola told Crux. After spending 10 of their 12 years of marriage as instructors for communication in families, serving at a broader level “has been such a gift,” both for them and the diocese, she said.
The Office for Marriage and Family Life in the Diocese of San Bernardino was recently established by Bishop Gerald Barnes as a direct result of last year’s V Encuentro summit, which took place Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas.
While the summit is the most important gathering of Hispanic Catholic leaders in the United States, the event is not just limited to Latinos, but welcomes several other communities from diverse cultural backgrounds to discuss key issues in American Catholicism.
Speaking to Crux, Mario said he is happy to be co-directing the new office with his wife, which “is not common.”
“It’s a privilege, but at the same time it’s scary. There are people looking at us, we need to make sure we’re stepping up to the plate and doing everything we can to live a humble, happy, joyful marriage ourselves, to preach what we want others to do, and to live it,” he said.
Similarly, Paola said that in addition to leading the office with her husband, “the aspect of being Latino leaders, Hispanic leaders,” is also an important aspect of their new position, especially since part of the V Encuentro was spent discussing how to create space for more Latino leadership in the Catholic Church.
“It’s not just Mario directing this office, but it’s also me as a woman, as a wife, as a couple. Being called to that ministry by our bishop is very significant and something that hasn’t been done,” she said.
For Mario and Paola, the inspiration that led to the creation of their office, and to their jobs, was the result of the type of interactions and intercultural exchanges that the V Encuentro naturally facilitates.
“The V Encuentro has offered us (this) opportunity, which is not just for the Hispanic community, but it’s for the whole Church of the United States,” Paola said. “It’s been such a joy to see people who are not Hispanic, not Latino, participate through the V Encuentro process.”
She noted that many non-Latino bishops have also embraced the initiative. And with many bishops throughout the U.S. and beyond advocating for more lay leaders in the Church, especially on matters regarding marriage and family, both Mario and Paola see themselves as an example of this leadership.
In Mario’s view, his job is “an opportunity for us to step up to the plate,” offering leadership both as a young couple and as a minority.
Being young with four children aged between three to 11-years-old, “one of the things we want to do through our ministry is we want to encourage other couples and families who have young children…to get involved,” Paola said.
Despite the craze of everyday life, the couple insists that it is possible for more couples to get involved while striking the right balance. “It’s not about juggling, it’s about merging. It’s merging our family life, our work life, our ministry, and doing all this at the same time as best as possible,” Mario said.
The couple is currently in Rome Sept. 13-18 as part of an official delegation from the Unites States Bishops’ Conference (USCCB) in order to present Pope Francis and members of the Roman Curia with the “Proceedings and Conclusions of the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry” document, summarizing the discussion and resolutions of the summit.
The document is expected to help facilitate both collaboration and coordination of Hispanic ministry initiatives at a national level between the USCCB and individual dioceses.
Others in the delegation include Archbishop José H. Gomez, of Los Angeles, Vice-President of the USCCB; Bishop Nelson J. Pérez of Cleveland, chairman of the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church; Bishop Arturo Cepeda of Detroit, chairman of the Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs, and several young people who were involved in the V Encuentro.
Aside from their excitement over being able to meet with American Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who oversees the Vatican office for Laity, Family and Life, and who is therefore the point-man on matters related to marriage and the family, Mario and Paola were enthusiastic about sharing their experience of the Encuentro with members of the Curia.
Paola said they have been welcomed with “joy and enthusiasm” by the Vatican officials they’ve met, who she said were supportive of the work being done at the Encuentro summit.
“They’re lending their ears and letting us know, ‘we’re there for you,’ so that connection between our church back home and here, they’re so close,” she said, adding that “to feel that closeness, it’s been a gift to witness that.”
Mario said he was impressed to see how things function at the top levels. After witnessing first-hand how things are done at both the parish and national levels, being in the Vatican has “helped me to see that we’re all together, we’re all the same,” he said.
“Sometimes we think about Rome and it seems so far away, but it’s great. It’s been a really great experience,” he said, voicing gratitude for the support they’ve received from the people and offices they have visited.