Friday, November 21, 2008

A Group Permitting the Lord to Lead

The following piece is a very nice article highlighting a group which is really making a difference in their community:

More than a place to pray:
Charismatic Catholics serve community, too

María Cortés González/El Paso Times

EL PASO -- Open Arms Community is not a church.

But the common mistake people make is not surprising considering all the activity taking place inside its facility, Centro Santa Fe, once a popular ranchera music dance place, off North Loop.
A Charismatic Catholic organization, Open Arms began as a small group meeting for prayer in people's homes. In its 35 years, the organization has gone from meeting in homes and churches to its own permanent home, where it still meets for prayer but also stores a food bank that gives supplemental groceries to about 500 families a month. It also runs a thrift store and a bookstore that support the food bank.

This holiday season, they plan to serve from 500 to 600 people a holiday meal at Mount Carmel Church. The organization also sponsors two conferences a year, one of which will take place this weekend at Las Alas Center, 501 E. Paisano.

Leaders have even bigger plans for the organization. Having taken on a mortgage on 15 acres of adjacent property that used to house a drive-in theater, the organization plans to build a retreat house and renewal center as well as a Catholic adult day care in a few years.

Joanne Ivey, executive director of the organization, was part of the original group that brought Catholics from various churches for small prayer meetings.

"It was in the early '70s and part of the pentecostal movement ... that felt a need to gather to pray in a more informal setting than what you would see in church on Sunday," she said.
The organization, which has the blessing of the El Paso Catholic Diocese, which is only a few yards away, emphasizes the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit, through which believers may prophesy, heal or speak in tongues. Charismatic comes from "charisma," a Greek word for gift.
It is believed that worldwide there are more than a 100 million Charismatic Catholics -- roughly 10 percent of Catholics. Several popes including Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II have acknowledged and supported the movement as a way of helping to renew the church.

"The pentecostal experience to me enhances everything we already believe and do as Catholics," Ivey said. " ... We believe that any baptized person has the Holy Spirit within them and can receive those special charisms if they do desire, not for their own upbuilding, but for the church."
Ivey stresses that while members of the organization meet for the small prayer groups on Mondays and Tuesdays, they also belong to various Catholic churches around the city.
She is excited about the enthusiasm that members have not only to enrich their relationships with God but also to reach out to the community with their food pantry and retreats.
Sara Barraza, who is raising three children by herself since her husband left, appreciates the supply of food she receives monthly from the organization.

"It's been difficult for me to support my three children, so I appreciate that they give me rice, beans and pastas -- staples that we eat every day," saidBarraza, who supports her family by taking care of friends' children.

"They give me a big help and it lightens my load," she said
Julia Martinez is another El Pasoan who not only has received food staples monthly but also has volunteered when she can, preparing grocery bags or doing mailings. Martinez said she has not been able to go since her husband became terminally ill in October.

"But I appreciate that they still call me to see how I'm doing and that they pray for me," she said. "It makes me feel better to have their support and prayers."

Jerry Blaine, who attends Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Horizon City, has also been involved in Open Arms for many years. He appreciates the intimacy of the small group.

"There's a close bonding with others," he said, "and I think almost everybody who is involved has had that common experience" of the Holy Spirit.

Blaine said the support of the church's hierarchy is also important to him.

"Before I became involved, I was conservative religiously," he said. "But I read a lot about the renewal and the statement that it was well within the church."

Ivey said the retreat center will have about 80 rooms, with classrooms, a chapel and two spacious places to conduct retreats. Besides receiving private donations, the organization has fundraisers for its retreat center, such as the annual Fiesta of the Nations.

Blaine is confident the organization will be able to build a great retreat center.

"A small group was able to buy and pay for this property and we're steadily paying off the drive-in property," he said. "And this is what we think the Lord is leading us to do and he will supply the means."

Article author María Cortés González may be reached at; 546-6150.

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