Adding to the growing number of lay ministers who are embracing the call to be more deeply involved in church leadership, four new pastoral associates were commissioned Nov. 3 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.Ellie Hidalgo, Angelica Loera, Hector Quiroz and Jan Sooter come from different backgrounds and experiences, and most will go back to their parishes to take on more responsibilities, being co-workers with pastors and various ministries in a supportive leadership position. While the pastoral associates program was established in 1999 and the first pastoral associates were commissioned in 2003, the idea of having lay people actively involved in parishes and other church functions isn’t new at all, according to Katherine Enright, director of the Office of Parish Life which coordinates the pastoral associate and parish life director formation programs.“Most people don’t realize that in the first 1,000 years of the church, this is how the faith communities were organized,” she explained. “Men and women took active leadership roles back then and it wasn’t uncommon. By virtue of our baptism, we are all called to serve the Body of Christ and the challenge today is to find that path.”With the addition of these four newly commissioned, the number of pastoral associates is approximately 25 in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, said Enright, adding that her office has been getting more calls lately about the program. Currently, about 15 men and women are in various stages of working to complete the program in the archdiocese. Some are close to finishing; others are several years away.All over the world, the idea of pastoral associates has been embraced, especially in areas where fewer priests are serving. Enright said that some areas of the country (the Midwest) and the world (Germany especially) have extremely active pastoral associates programs.Enright is pleased that many people feel the call to this type of service. Often it’s the pastor or the Parish Life Director who recommends someone in his parish to consider the position. Such was the case with Quiroz who, as an active parishioner at St. Marcellinus Church in Commerce, said that it was his PLD, Humberto Ramos who “saw something in me and really gave me the kick to go ahead and pursue this. I don’t think I would have considered it without his support.”Overall, the program doesn’t follow a traditional set of specifics for participants which means it can be uniquely tailored for individuals. Participants, however, must demonstrate competency in three areas: spiritual formation, academic preparation/enhancement and pastoral skills/leadership. Given the academics — many pastoral associates pursue one and maybe two Master’s degrees — the program can take long, especially if the participant is working full or part time. The expense of returning to school is also a factor.“I only took one course at a time,” said Hildago about the years it took for her to complete her education component. She learned about the pastoral associates when she was a reporter for The Tidings, writing stories about the program especially when it was first introduced. Looking back, she said she realized that “God was pulling me to The Tidings as a writer which led me to this opportunity.” Today, she is serving full time at Dolores Mission in Boyle Heights which she has attended and ministered for more than a decade.Sooter was in the business world for many years, but still found time to volunteer at Blessed Sacrament Church; she was baptized in that Hollywood parish and has a strong connection to the eclectic parish makeup. She thinks it’s wonderful that as a woman has more opportunities in the church today did than generations of the past. “Back then, women could either enter a religious community or get married,” she observed. “This church feels like where I should be; I’ve been guided to this place all along.”“[This program] has given an opportunity to fulfill the call that I was given at my baptism,” asserted Loera, who has volunteered in the archdiocese for many years as well as at her parish, St. Philip the Apostle in Pasadena. Through her years of volunteering at the parish (especially with the Hispanic community), Loera hopes to “be a bridge” among groups and communities, in and outside of the parish. “I want everyone to feel welcomed,” she said. “I really look forward to helping the church in whatever humble way I can,” added Quiroz who echoes his fellow pastoral associate’s feelings. “Someone kicked me into this and now it’s my turn to keep my eye opened for those whom I can encourage.”For more information about the pastoral associate program, contact Katherine Enright at (23) 637-7533 or [email protected].{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/1108/pastassoc/{/gallery}