Felipe Garcia and Maria Morales (Garcia) and their children are originally from Mexico City, Mexico. Like so many immigrants from all over the world, they came to the U.S. seeking a better life. They found not only that better life, but also a deeper relationship with the Lord through their struggles to get here; they also found it through their new home parish, St. John the Evangelist in Goshen.
Morales was 19 and Garcia 24 when they met through his sister and began dating. Two years later they were married, and children soon followed: Laura, now 40; Jose de Jesus, deceased soon after birth; Jasmine, 36; Araceli, 34; Naomi, 32; and Yareli, 26.
Garcia first came to the U.S. in 1997 and started working in a local factory. A year later Morales joined him, and a year after that their children joined them both. The couple shared that they always attended Mass together before coming to the U.S., but they weren’t involved in their church. They were married in the Catholic Church, but their last names aren’t the same because Mexican tradition calls for wives to continue to use and be known by their maiden names.
Garcia said one of the first things he did when he arrived was to look for a Catholic church. He said it was “one way to give thanks to the Lord for everything — for everything (I had) to pass through to get here.”
Morales agreed. “The only way to keep your faith strong is through the Church, and through the Church to give thanks for coming to the U.S.”
It was most difficult for the couple to be separated from one another for that year, and then for the parents to be separated from their children.
Morales said, “This is a situation where you have to trust God more than anything. You have to know that if you trust in Him and things are not OK now, our hope in Jesus is that they will be better.”
Their oldest daughter, Laura, who was present for a Today’s Catholic interview and interpreted, said she was 19 at the time her mother left for the U.S. — but Yareli was only 5 or 6. She said the older children tried to be strong.
“We knew how difficult it was for them — more than it was for us — so we didn’t want them to worry about us,” Laura said. “We were feeling that God was sending people to watch over us.”
When asked how they kept their 41-year marriage strong, Morales replied that marriages may have problems: but being in the Church helps. They also said that they always seemed to find people who would remind them to continue attending church and maintaining their relationship with the Lord. “We consider them like angels. God is using people to show the only way to keep strong through hard times is to stay close to Him,” Morales said.
Garcia said the marriage commitment is a promise, and remembering that promise helps keep him strong in good times and bad. “I always feel God provides the strength to keep (us) together,” he said.
When the couple first started attending St. John the Evangelist in the late ’90s, it offered no Spanish Mass. The only Spanish Mass in the area was celebrated at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Milford. They didn’t attend there, though, because St. John was closer. Then, Deacon Ricardo Medina was assigned to the parish to assist with the growing Hispanic congregation and the celebration of the Mass in Spanish.
Morales recalls that only one lady, Dora Espinoza, sang during the Mass; so, Morales sat next to her and they sang a cappella. Herlinda Zepeda joined them, and Deacon Medina suggested they start a Spanish choir. He found a few instruments and told them someone needed to be responsible for the instruments. No one stepped forward, so Garcia said that he would. The first Spanish Choir at St. John now existed. There were only the 3-4 musician/choristers at first, and the number continued to vary for years as some would come and then drop out.
The couple also assisted Deacon Medina when he celebrated baptisms and weddings, and they grew to be close friends with him. Garcia also became a proclaimer.
Retreats grow their faith
Both Morales and Garcia began attending diocesan retreats, first becoming involved with Christ Renews His Parish. A few years ago, they attended a Levántate (Arise) small group. When it ended, the members of group said they ready for something else.
Morales said they thought, “‘Now what?’ They were looking for more,” said Laura.
The couple found some charismatic retreats to attend but said the group formed during Arise wanted to stay together and continue on their faith journeys together. “They are still looking for something to feed their souls,” Morales said.
Garcia and Morales went on a couples’ retreat in Chicago this past September, which they found very helpful.
“It helped us to find out how to live our marriage the way God intended and it gave us the tools for testing ourselves and see where we need help,” Morales shared. They are still involved with Levántate around in Goshen in nearby Catholic churches.
Garcia said he feels the good things in his life are such a blessing, and that one way God uses His people is through their talents. One of his talents is music so he feels through that music and singing in the choir he can give thanks for everything.
The couple offers this advice for staying strong in the faith. Morales said to offer work and prayers to Him and He will provide for you. “Stay close, look for retreats and everything the Church provides and keep going because otherwise you’ll be far from Him. Stay close and He’ll provide the answers.”
Garcia said to remember the commandment that attending Mass is an obligation. “Do it to give thanks for everything you have. It’s very important. I tell people, ‘Don’t forget to take time for serving the Lord — it’s the only way to give thanks for all the blessings we have.’”
Laura laughed and added, “Even though we’re grown he still calls to check if we went to Mass or not.”
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