Bishops Pray For Safety, Care For Hurricane VictimsPrevious Article
Father Tom Abducted In Yemen FreedNext Article
Breaking News

California Pastor To Get Lumen Christi Award

Line Spacing+- AFont Size+- Print This Article
California Pastor To Get Lumen Christi Award

CHICAGO (CNS) — Today,
Greenfield in California’s Salinas Valley looks and feels different because
Father Enrique Herrera believed that the Catholic Church could make life better
for the city’s residents, according to Chicago-based Catholic Extension.

For his efforts in the Catholic
community and the wider community, Catholic Extension has chosen Father Herrera
to receive the 2017-2018 Lumen Christi Award, its highest honor.

The priest, who is pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Greenfield in the Diocese of Monterrey, will be officially presented with the award during a Mass at his parish Dec.
10. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the award.

When Father Herrera arrived at
Holy Trinity Parish and saw that parishioners were struggling to feed their
families and had few opportunities for a brighter future, he decided that his
parish would become a beacon of hope.

Together with his parishioners,
he started new programs focused on strengthening faith, education and community.

“Hearts were opened.
Individuals started changing. Families started changing. Neighborhoods started
changing. Classrooms started changing. The Police Department, Fire Department, school
officials, City Council and mayor all got on board,” Extension said in
announcing the award.

“The Lumen Christi Award shines
brightly to honor and give recognition to people who are great missionaries in
our country,” said Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension. “Father
Herrera is a great example. He has stood up as a shepherd for his flock and
raised them up. He is a ‘voice for the voiceless,’ but he is also helping people
to find their own voice, helping them to aspire and to dream. He is a true

Catholic Extension’s selection
of Father Herrera and his bustling parish of immigrant parishioners also shines
a light on a seismic shift that has occurred in the Catholic Church over the
past 25 years.

A new study released by the
Public Religion Research Institute documented what America magazine
called the “shift from a predominantly white church clustered in the Northeast
and Midwest to a church influenced by Latin American immigration and located in
the South and West.”

Before Father Herrera was born,
his parents had worked in the Salinas Valley. After his birth in Mexico — he
is the third of seven children — his father continued to travel there
regularly as a migrant worker to support the family.

Enduring his father’s long
absences, he developed a soft spot for the plight of migrants. By age 10,
Father Herrera felt the tug toward priesthood. Wanting to be “a voice for the voiceless,”
he entered the seminary in Guadalajara, Mexico, after high school.

When his family immigrated to the Salinas Valley, he caught the attention of the bishop of
Monterey, who asked him to join the diocese. Ever since, he has served the poor
in several parishes, working primarily with immigrants.

“I have come full circle,” he said in a statement. “As the son of immigrants, I am now able to serve immigrants in the same location.”

As pastor of Holy Trinity, Father
Herrera shepherds the only Catholic church in Greenfield. Catholic Extension
helped build the church in 1934.

A city of 16,000, Greenfield is
in the heart of the Salinas Valley. It is comprised mainly of immigrants who come to
harvest lettuce, broccoli, grapes and strawberries. Half of the city’s population is under age 21. The average income there is almost 40 percent below the national poverty level.

Father Herrera is particularly
focused on the youth of the parish. Most of their parents, 90 percent of whom are
farmworkers in nearby fields. Their work schedules keep them away from home.

This past May, 446 children
received their first Communion. Father Herrera also has ramped up the number of
teenagers being confirmed. Hundreds are in the confirmation program each year, and he encourages them to be leaders. The teens
become his core group of volunteers because they have the “energy, wisdom and
understanding” to guide others, he said.

With Catholic Extension’s help, this
summer the parish started a new summer camp for children. The program includes lessons on faith and on science.

For adults, Father Herrera tries
to work around their long work schedules. When agricultural fields are dormant,
he holds daily Bible classes that attract more than 400.

The parish has six Masses each
weekend, including four in Spanish. Between liturgies, baptisms and quinceaneras,
about 4,000 people come to church each weekend.

Father Herrera believes that the
Catholic Church has a role in addressing human needs alongside the spiritual
ones. He knows that his parishioners confront pervasive poverty and complex
problems, and he wants to “bring the Catholic faith to the streets.”

“We need to put the Catholic Church in the social arena, so it not
only helps people grow in their faith but also to grow as members of a
community,” he explained.

The parish has a food bank,
English classes, immigration assistance, nutrition and parenting classes. Every
year during spring break, 300 high school students attend anti-bullying and
anti-violence classes. The priest has established soccer and basketball leagues
to keep young people engaged during their free time.

“Father Herrera advocates for
our community to ensure that we get what we need spiritually as well as
physically, emotionally, intellectually and in other aspects that are needed
for a balanced life,” said Greenfield Mayor Jesus Olvera Garcia, who is a Holy Trinity parishioner. “Holy Trinity Catholic Church has the doors open to
welcome everyone to be part of their events and services.”

Father Herrera’s dream is that
all his young parishioners will attend college, so the parish holds fundraisers
to provide college scholarships and connects students to other resources and

In nominating the priest for the
Lumen Christi Award, Bishop Richard J. Garcia of Monterey said: “Father Herrera
has put together a wonderful team helping him in the community. He is building the
community so that everyone feels at home, like one family. He cares so much
about advancing the whole community.”

Catholic Extension, the
Chicago-based papal society devoted to building churches and the Catholic Church
in America’s poorest places, has been supporting dioceses in California since
1911. It now serves six of the 12 dioceses, which make up 92 percent of the
state’s territory.


Vatican Live Video Feed

Pope Francis on Twitter