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Community crowds in to teach each other.

SAN DIEGO -- A few weeks ago when Martha Sanchez finished her 20-minute reflection at Christ the King's 8:30 a.m. Sunday Mass, the church responded with a five-minute standing ovation.

This is the parish where the bishop had tears in his eyes listening to those being confirmed tell of people important in their lives: Lucy Torres telling of her parents' love for her and the gratitude she expressed, simply, to them for the love that had made her a better person; Jonas Madden Connor telling how his mother took the stale macaroni and how she made a beautiful meal from it, like Jesus changing the water into wine.

In this parish, Sanchez said, the community members -- the ministers and gatherers, the choir, the people, the bigger children to the smaller children, black and latino and white -- teach each other.

Christ the King Parish is poor only in money and the modesty of its surroundings -- in the primarily black and Latino 32nd and Imperial section of the city.

This is a small church: Three Sunday Masses are crowded enough to test a fire marshal's patience. There are about 300 English-speaking families, predominantly black but significantly white; perhaps a thousand Latino families, "but most of them only come once or twice a month," said Sanchez.

"The faith within the Hispanic population is not within the church it is within the family," Sanchez said. "|I go to church because I love my mother and my mother always told me to go to church.' Faith is lived at home, and with the neighbors."

Christ the King's choir sings to a professional standard and had 1,000 people at a recent University of San Diego concert (to benefit the parish's modest expansion hopes), with Los Angeles' St. Brigid's choir also on hand to sing and entertain.

"What we're trying to teach the children," said pastoral associate Sanchez, who has DRE responsibilities, too, "is how to live the liturgy within the home. We don't have a whole lot of doctrine; I think that can come later when they understand what the church is talking about. What we try to express at Christ the King is a view of the other."

"Looking at how children develop," said Sanchez, an elementary school teacher from Tome, N.M., where she was also involved in religious education, "I think we've been doing things backward for a very long time. Sure, |I am special, God loves me,' but the child has to first see the value in other people. That it's not |me' first, it's the other person first. Then, later on, we can discover who we are and concentrate on the |me.'"

Christ the King Sunday children's Liturgy of the Word is a sellout. Children eagerly scoot down the aisles, scooping up younger children, even babies, and taking them off for 30-40 minutes as the adults settle into their own grown-up interpretations.

Sometimes there are 80 kids jammed into a tiny room, the largest available. Parishioners staff four English-language teams and eight Spanish-language teams to share teaching the children.

Sanchez, who is also undertaking a master's in practical theology at USD, has a dream: to provide parish-based religious formation for laypeople. "Priests, sisters, religious communities, they have so much formation," she said, "and I don't think laypeople have that opportunity.

"I can go on retreats now and then, but what about a structure right in the neighborhood, where people can come for a couple of years, straight out of high school even, while continuing on with their studies and their jobs, to discern not their religious vocation, but their life vocation as Christians. To explore: |What does God call me to do?' To explore what they're good at, explore what they want. All anchored in the parish."

This is a parish for teaching through homilies. It's Jesuit Fr. Eduardo Samaneigo carrying a spatula and giving the story from Martha's perspective. Or Jesuit Fr. Michael Mandala, the pastor, eagerly honoring parish workers such as youth minister Robin Porcher or the choirs. And the church rejoicing with an amen. Or Deacon Jonathon Connor preaching from Acts about how deacons were created as a way of dealing with the community's problems, and then telling the people, "but I'm telling you, church, I'm not here to do it alone." And the church laughs, roars amen again.

Outside the church, the statue of Christ the King has no hands. Heck, in this parish, Martha Sanchez will tell you, even the children know what that means. In fact, especially the children.
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Title Annotation:Christ the King Parish, San Diego, California
Author:Jones, Arthur
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Jul 30, 1993
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