OTTUMWA — Images of saints, passionate preaching, liturgy, Mexican food, laughter and fellowship traveled through Bridge View Center at Saturday’s theological conference. It felt like home to Midwestern Hispanic Catholics.

From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Hispanic Catholics of all ages from all over the Midwest gathered to learn about the different saints, the Virgin Mary, build their faith and spend time with family. Speakers spoke about the different saints and the necessity of a strong faith.

Since 2015, Davenport Diocese has hosted their yearly theological conferences. Not all attendees came from the Midwest. Bishops, priests and speakers came from all over Mexico and Latin America to witness Catholics make their faith their own.

Some, like Bishop Hector Lopez-Alvarado of Guadalajara Mexico even came to America for the first time. Lopez-Alvarado came because another Bishop sent him to Ottumwa.

He came on his own accord as well, even thankful for what he witnessed at the conference. “I enjoyed the people of Latin America, their faith and how they discovered the necessity of God,” Lopez-Alvarado said in Spanish, “It’s the first time as a bishop I’ve been outside this country, my expectation is that people discover the love and faith of the blessed Virgin Mary and love to the blessed Mother and take it to their jobs.”

Attendees like Maria Hernadez, Israel Luna and Hugo Torres all took away Lopez-Alvarado’s sentiments. Hernadez said her experience was a “soul awakening” one. “I’ve been struggling with personal issues,” Hernadez said, “I found peace when I came today.”

“It helped spiritually and with life,” Luna said, “It helped people find peace. It was also educational as far as what the virgin says about faith.”

Like Luna, Torres said he enjoyed the preaching from different speakers. “Other people sharing the same faith was a comfort,” Torres said, “The speakers were sure about what they said about the virgins and faith.”

Attendees couldn’t be impacted if it were not for the organizers of the conference; a number of volunteers and workers to make it happen. They came to work at the conference for different reasons, but had greater purposes in common: joy and faith.

Susan M Stein, a worker at the Catholic Distribution center, a home base for independent Catholic artists  shared the joy and faith and even added that anyone could be impacted even if they didn’t believe in God. 

“If you have faith, no explanation is needed,” McStein said, “if you have no clue, no explanation is possible. If you don’t have a relationship with God. You can come here just because you’re inquisitive and ask ‘what makes them tick? Are they crazy?’ but when you come here and see the joy and peace in people’s hearts — maybe they have nothing but hopefully you’ll see the sunset they have and say ‘I want it.’”

Julietta Lopez and Hugo Rodriguez also volunteered. They had different reasons for volunteering as well as what they enjoyed most about it.

Lopez heard about the opportunity to volunteer from deacons at her church and Rodriguez heard from event organizer Miguel Moreno who was looking for volunteers to help with the conference.

“I wanted to volunteer because I like serving and helping others,” Lopez said, “helping out people, coming in, learning God’s word. I love learning about God. “Everybody’s so kind to each other.”

“I’m part of the church and community, so it was a no brainer to help out,” Rodriguez said, “I’ve just enjoyed being with this group of people. There’s been a lot of work put into it.”

Volunteering was not the only thing on Rodriguez’s agenda. He came to be impacted and see the attendees impacted by faith.

“You never really get to see this many Hispanic Catholics come together, it’s always hard just to see how big the Hispanic community is,” Rodriguez said, “Events like this bring us together. It really is a good opportunity for us to see how alive our faith is and how strong it is. The best thing is to see all these faces, backgrounds and one faith come together.”

— Chiara Romero can be reached at cromero@ottumwacourier.com.

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