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 | By Rose Robertson

For those whom Olga serves – ‘I want them to know they are loved and that God is on their side.’

You can’t help but sense tenderness when you meet Olga. She says, “I don’t just like what I do; I love what I do. It is my passion. My heart is into it.” Olga De La Torre is the director of religious education (DRE) at Cristo Rey Parish in Lansing, and carries the distinction of being the first lay minister to fulfill this position at her parish. Prior to her appointment this past January, Passionist Sisters fulfilled the role at Cristo Rey. “I still have trouble comprehending how I ended up here,” she says.

Born in Mexico, Olga came to the Lansing area with her family in 1978 when she was 15 years old. An aunt introduced them to Cristo Rey Parish, and she has been a member ever since. “From the time I married 33 years ago, I’ve always been active in the parish. Thirteen years ago, I was invited to help teach baptismal classes and the kindergarten students. Three years ago, I began visiting families in their homes with Sister Maria, who was the DRE, and taking formation classes through the University of Notre Dame.” In essence, Olga became the DRE’s right-hand assistant.  When Sister Maria died in November of 2018, Father Fred Thelen, then-pastor of Cristo Rey, asked Olga to formally take on a role she had already been confidently executing. Olga’s bilingual skills, and comprehension of the unique challenges faced by the Hispanic community, made her the perfect candidate.

At Cristo Rey, Olga is responsible for the planning and execution of the children’s faith formation program, catechist recruiting and training, and sacramental preparation. She says: “I also coordinate several Hispanic feasts. December’s a busy month with novenas; first to Our Lady of Guadalupe, from Dec. 3 to Dec. 11. The actual Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12, includes a celebration serenading Our Lady.  Quickly following, the novena of Las Posadas, celebrating the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy, goes from Dec. 16 through Dec. 24.

“In late October, we begin preparing for the Day of the Dead. An altar is placed at the church entrance. Parishioners bring photos of their deceased loved ones to place there, and on Nov. 2, they process to lay them at the sanctuary altar and light a candle. In May, during our annual Church Fiesta, current first Communion children crown Mary and bring her flowers.”

Cristo Rey also enacts the Stations of the Cross every Good Friday, beginning on the Capitol steps and concluding at Cristo Rey Community Center on High Street. Youth and other members of the parish assume these duties.

Along with programming and administrative duties, Olga works hard to support the parish community to live fully within an Anglo culture. She explains: “Many of our parishioners don’t speak English, so they need help filling out papers for doctors, schools or legal matters. Those who are undocumented don’t have a driver’s license so they need help finding transportation.” Olga explains that most immigrants work two or three jobs to make ends meet, making it virtually impossible for them, despite their desire to learn English, to find time to attend literacy classes.

Olga continues: “Our biggest challenge now is their fear of family separation. They feel like they are being intentionally hunted. It becomes difficult for us to help them because they often won’t answer their door or phone in fear it is ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Working closely with the diocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry, Olga is also learning about programs to offer her community. She is looking for ways to let the undocumented, especially those who have gone underground, know they have an ally and a safe place to go. Cristo Rey’s registered census is approximately 450 families; the number unregistered, mostly from fear of deportation, is unknown.

Olga is quick to identify what sustains her faith: “My love for God and what I’ve learned from my own parents. Their faith is the biggest heritage they could give me.  I remember my mother taking me to church when I was 4 years old and the Blessed Sacrament was exposed. I asked her what it was and she told me it was God. I felt a joy in my heart and didn’t need further explanation. Since then I have felt a special fire in my heart for God.

“I am trying very hard to serve our people with all my love and all my knowledge. I want them to find God right where they are and feel loved by him, no matter their circumstances, I want them to know they are loved and that God is on their side.”

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