When Adalberta Zurita and her husband Patrocinio Vega were growing up in rural Mexico, they would be called to church by the sound of the bells. Perhaps there was a wedding or a baptism or a feast day, or maybe the traveling priest was present to celebrate Mass. “Everyone would walk or run toward the church,” Ada recalled. “When the third bell rang, it was time to start.”
Little did Ada and Patrocinio know as children where life was going to take them. However, now when the bells ring at St. Frances Cabrini Church, Ada and Patrocinio know they are in the place where God has called them to be.
The journey was challenging. The family’s difficulties began many years ago in Mexico, where as a wife, mother, and grandmother, Ada fell seriously ill and was close to death. To earn the money needed for her surgery, her husband and son-in-law came to Ocean City for work, followed in time by her daughter. By then, Ada had recovered successfully from her surgery and was caring for her two young grandchildren. The family remained unsettled. Problems of poverty and crime made reunification in Mexico impossible. So, with the children, ages 6 and 7 at the time, Ada reluctantly made the journey to Ocean City–only to find her family nearly broken by years of stress and separation. Ada’s health worsened again.
In a state of sorrow and pain, the family attended a charismatic Catholic retreat in Atlantic City. “We learned more of Christ,” Ada said. “That he is resurrected, that he is alive, and that nothing is impossible for him to do.” Patrocinio added: “When I was young, God seemed very distant, but then I learned more of God and that he makes miracles.” After the retreat, Ada’s health improved. The family “turned a new leaf,” according to Patrocinio, and began to heal and thrive. The family attended another important charismatic retreat in New York City, this time in the company of more people from this area. A supportive local community began to grow and strengthen, increasing the Hispanic congregation at St. Frances Cabrini. The more joy that Ada and Patrocinio experienced, the more they reached out to others to bring them to church. Over the last ten years, attendance at the Hispanic Mass has grown from a handful of people into a large and vibrant community of worshippers.
Both Ada and Patrocinio have completed a three-year program in lay ministry formation known as IMEC (Instituto de Ministerio Eclesial de Camden). They attend the Circulo de Oración, a weekly evening prayer meeting of praise-giving, where members also pray for the sick, take up collections for needs in the community, and provide each other fellowship and support. The prayer group is another site of miracles and healing. Ada carries her rosary to families that “may feel distant from the church.” She prays the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy with them in their homes. Patrocinio and Ada help to prepare for Wednesday evening Adoration. Patrocinio always tries to come early and stay late for church events to help set up decorations, serve food, or straighten up the sanctuary after Mass. “This is a service I can do for the Lord,” he said. Meanwhile, both attend daily Mass as often as they can. “We have a lot of devotion toward the Eucharist,” Ada said.
As strong as the church has become, Ada and Patrocinio would like to see more programming for Hispanic youth. “The young people in this community have a lot of talent and want to be part of something,” Ada said. “They need the kinds of experiences that the adults have at the retreats. They need someone to teach them how to have personal and joyful encounters with God.”
Three generations of the family of Ada and Patrocinio now share a home in Ocean City, including four grandchildren. The older two, who came from Mexico, are attending college. Everyone is active in the church. Ada and Patrocinio said they feel a special connection to the Holy Family. “Their example of unity gives me peace, trust and comfort,” Ada said. “The Lord wants us to be together. He does not want separation.”