By NICHOLAS C. STERN
The News-Post of Frederick
ADAMSTOWN, Md. (AP) — When Maria-Teresa D’Orazio began volunteering at St. Joseph-on-Carrollton Manor Catholic Church about 22 years ago, she noticed that none of her fellow Latinos attended Mass there.
“I saw them in the supermarkets and on the streets and I started wondering, `What is the reason?”‘ said D’Orazio, now 75.
She met with other local Latinos and asked them why, when many had been practicing Catholics in their native countries, they no longer went to Mass.
They told her they had been attending Protestant services, she said, because those churches were welcoming and offered transportation.
Local Catholic churches did not have Spanish-speaking priests, she said. Many Latino residents told her they would attend one if Mass were said in Spanish.
D’Orazio and others put ads in local newspapers, asking if anyone would be interested in a Spanish-language Mass.
“At the time, I felt it was needed,” she said. “Years later, I think it was God that gave me the idea.”
In the early 1990s, St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Frederick celebrated its first Masses in Spanish.
The Rev. Tad Mich, an adjunct professor of anthropology at Catholic University of America, started the service in Spanish as a volunteer with the university, he said. He continues to help organize Catholic Latino communities across the state, including at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Walkersville.
D’Orazio’s contribution “was critical at the beginning because of a simple fact: She was a natural bridge between two different cultures, Latino and American,” Mich said.
The Rev. Kevin Farmer, administrator at St. John’s, is uncertain when St. John’s Hispanic community started, but he said it is one of the oldest in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Today, the church’s Hispanic community has about 400 members and an associate pastor, the Rev. Miguel Mateo, who serves both Spanish- and English-speaking congregations.
Bridging two worlds
D’Orazio was born in Granada, Nicaragua. At age 13, she went to Costa Rica to study to become a secretary. In 1955, she moved to Southern California with an older sister whose husband was a U.S. diplomat.
She worked for 12 years as a bilingual secretary at the Pan American Health Organization in Washington. She spent more than a decade back in Nicaragua with her husband and growing family, then a year in Venezuela before returning to the United States. About 30 years ago, she became a U.S. citizen.
She now enjoys the peace and tranquility of life in Adamstown — living near her family, including her grandchildren, as well as the friends she has made and the people she meets every day through her various volunteer positions.
“I have found my niche,” she said.
D’Orazio volunteers at Mission of Mercy, which provides free health care to poor residents; she has received patients and translated for the mission since the 1990s, she said. She was a founding member of Centro Hispano de Frederick and volunteers at the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
She also serves as a translator for people dealing with the local school system, social services or immigration issues.
“People call me to see if I can help,” she said.
Her efforts have garnered her awards from the archdiocese, as well as a papal award for service to the church.
After decades of helping immigrants span the gap between U.S. and Latino cultures, D’Orazio said she believes discrimination against Latinos is still a problem.
“Give them a chance,” she said. “Don’t expect a person who has been here three years to speak fluent English.”
The U.S. is a nation of immigrants, and allowing people to continue practicing their customs doesn’t hurt anyone, she said.
“Be a little more accepting. Please give us time.”
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)