“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20).
This reality was certainly manifest on Saturday, Aug. 26, when Koren Ruiz and his family visited Our Lady of Lourdes, Richmond, for the Discipleship and Stewardship Conference. Organized by the diocesan Office of Development, the event was an opportunity to share in fellowship and to learn more about our responsibilities as Catholics.
Ruiz and his wife Jessica are leaders of the group “Corresponsables de Dios,” or “Stewards of God,” an organization that travels through the United States with a message of growing participation in the Church, especially within the Hispanic community. Ruiz, his wife and his children are also musicians – Koren Ruiz plays the guitar and sings, his children play the piano and drums, and his wife Jessica joins them in song with her beautiful voice.
Bishop Barry C. Knestout was on hand to begin the conference with a series of remarks praising the 100-plus attendees – all of whom hold leadership roles in their parishes – as well as the Spanish community in the United States as a whole. Father Jonathan Goertz, Our Lady of Lourdes, Richmond, translated his remarks into Spanish.
“You are leaders throughout this diocese,” said the bishop. “Each of you have some significant role to play in catechesis, supporting the gathering of the faithful for worship, prayer and praise.”
“From the beginning, Spanish speakers were leaders in the Church in the Americas,” he added, noting that the first Catholic churches in New Mexico and Puerto Rico predate the arrival of the Mayflower. “The Spanish community has led the way, tilling the soil for the Church in the United States.”
Koren Ruiz then gave a presentation combining music and worship with the theme of growing the Church. “God is the creator and the giver of all things that exist,” Ruiz said. “He gave us our time, our talents and our treasures.”
“Today, this moment, is not ours. God is lending it to us,” Ruiz explained. “We all have talents. Sometimes God trusts us with very diverse talents. Who are the talents from? God. And who are they for? God.”
“The important idea is that we are owners of absolutely nothing in this world,” he continued. “Our treasure, too, is from God and for God.”
His speech was full of examples and questions for the crowd, keeping everyone engaged until late in the afternoon. One personal story that he shared detailed the first time that he played guitar: “I can share my musical talent with you,” he said. “People ask me, ‘When did you begin to play music?’ When I was nine years old, I asked my father for a guitar and money for lessons. He didn’t want me to play, but my mother gave me the money inside of a napkin. This, too, was a gift from God.”
He further stated that sometimes, participation in the Church requires sacrifice. “Love is a synonym of sacrifice. In the cross, there are two elements that cannot be separated: love and sacrifice,” Ruiz said. But at the same time, it is important that we give from our heart, not for gain or by obligation. Citing 2 Cor 9:7, he explained that “God loves a cheerful giver.”
After each section of the discourse, Ruiz and his family sang hymns with the attendees, and at one point, taught them a dance. Marcela Mejía Vernal, from Church of the Epiphany, Richmond, said that she enjoyed this aspect of the gathering. “It was exciting because all of the people were active and dynamic …. God goes on existing,” she said.
With a few other women from Epiphany, Mejía Vernal is forming a charismatic group in her church. “We have seen that people need further nourishment, but not without formation – we need prayer, we need interpersonal participation,” she said. “This was the reason we came. God exists. Where is he?”
José Ruiz, an usher at Immaculate Heart of Mary, Blackstone, came with his spouse Norma, who serves as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. “I learned many things today,” said José Ruiz. “I learned about serving and how to be a better volunteer, to help the Church and my parish.”
Koren Ruiz emphasized the importance of giving our time, talents and treasures in proportion to what God has given us. “Sometimes, my youngest son asks me, ‘Papa, do we have to go to church today? An hour is a lot of time,’” he said. “But how many hours are in the day? And how many are there in a week?”
“Every week, the average American spends 18 hours in front of the television, 15 hours on the internet, 14 hours socializing, six hours shopping, two hours exercising and one hour in religious activities,” he said. “These are important things, but we have to ask ourselves: How can we be stewards of what we have received?”
The Discipleship and Stewardship Conference was an opportunity to begin this process. As Father Goetz rose to give a blessing at the end of the day, he indicated the tabernacle on the altar, saying, “We have spent the whole day here in the presence of the Lord.”