For Carmelo Cayetano, the greatest spiritual questions have to do with the mystery of the Cross.  “Why did Jesus save us?  Do we really know?” he asks.  “How can we understand Christ’s suffering for us?” Carmelo has sought answers to these questions in many ways. 

Carmelo joined St. Damien Parish eight years ago.  At first, he was satisfied to attend Mass along with everyone else.  Then, he was asked to be a Eucharistic minister.  “I did not feel ready for it,” he said.  “I needed to learn more.”  So he began to study lay ministry, first in the parish and then, in 2014, by enrolling in a lay ministry program at St. Elizabeth College in Morris Township.  Carmelo studied for three years.  He earned a Leadership Certificate in Hispanic Ministry by taking courses in theology, philosophy, and culture and workshops on personal faith development.  When asked what he liked most about the program, Carmelo answered, “too many things.”  Now, Carmelo serves as a lector and sacristan for the Hispanic Ministry at St. Frances Cabrini Church.

While he was attending St. Elizabeth College, Carmelo learned about V Encuentro, The Fifth Encounter.  V Encuentro is a nationwide project of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  It seeks to uplift and strengthen the ministry among Hispanic/Latino Catholics, who now comprise 40 percent of Catholics in the U.S.  “I knew I wanted to be involved,” Carmelo said. “I came back and asked Father Al Diaz if I could join.” Carmelo has attended group meetings at the parish, diocese, and regional levels.  The groups will help to prepare a final document in 2020 that will identify best pastoral practices and priorities. For Carmelo, V Encuentro is helping him to live out his call to be a missionary disciple.  “I want to help people,” he stated. “That is how I want to lead.”  Last spring, he represented the parish at the Joy of the Gospel in South Jersey convocation. 

Carmelo was furthered prepared for missionary discipleship on Good Friday of this year.  He depicted Jesus in the Living Stations of the Cross.  For three hours, down the streets of Ocean City, from St. Frances Cabrini to St. Augustine, Carmelo carried a wooden cross.  He withstood the jeers and physical cruelty of the Roman soldiers.  He was put on the cross.  All of this was in realistic re-enactment of the Passion.  Carmelo and his fellow actors practiced for four months.  Over that time, the meaning of the Passion became clearer to Carmelo.  “To be Jesus in the Stations of the Cross was not to feel tired physically,” he said, “but spiritually and psychologically, to reflect profoundly on the weight of the Cross.”  Carmelo said he prayed throughout the reenactment, asking for understanding of Christ’s act of sacrifice and redemption of humankind.  “Jesus asks all of us to respond to him,” he said.  “Faith does not happen in any one place.  Having faith is to spend time experiencing an intimate relationship with the Lord.”

Before joining this parish, Carmelo lived in Mexico City.  He received a college degree in computer systems programming.  He also trained as an electrician.  He works now in construction.  Born in 1984, Carmelo credits his mother for instilling Catholic faith in her children.  Today, he financially supports one of his brothers, who is studying to be a priest in Mexico.  Another brother, in Vineland, attends Divine Mercy Church and also is involved in V Encuentro. Carmelo’s sister lives here in Ocean City, where Carmelo moved two years ago. 

Looking toward the future, Carmelo hopes the parish can find ways to engage Anglo and Hispanic members together so that we can serve our internal needs and reach out to the wider community.  He is optimistic about plans for a bilingual mass in St. Damien Parish, even though it will require blending different cultural traditions.  “It may take a long time,” he said, “but I think it can happen.”

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