(WBRE/WYOU-TV) Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania is becoming more and more diverse.     Our region is now home to many people of Hispanic and Latino descent.  The tapestry of the Hispanic heritage is deeply woven in the church.

     Eyewitness News Reporter Mark Hiller takes a look at how the Hispanic community managed to keep the faith– and help it flourish.

(Mass being said in Spanish) What you’re hearing is the result of a growing need in the Diocese of Scranton.

 Besides helping ease a priest shortage, Father Neftali Feliz Sena fills another void. Because the Colombia native is bilingual, he can celebrate mass in Spanish. Queen of Heaven Parish at Our Lady of Grace Church began offering masses in April for Spanish-speaking Catholics.

Rev. Neftali Feliz Sena — Assistant Pastor, Our Lady of Grace Church explains

“They are very happy when they can go to a church that, you know, celebrates the mass in their own language.”

Anna Arias leads the faithful in song. Her family was one of the first Latino families to move to the Hazleton area.

“Before the Spanish mass, people that… we used to get together in different houses and worship.” Anna Arias, Cantor Our Lady of Grace Church told us.

For years, pockets of Spanish-speaking Catholics from Central Pennsylvania to the Poconos kept their faith alive that way. But like a slow train coming, the number of local Hispanic/Latino community members increased. They petitioned the Bishop to offer Spanish speaking masses in Hazleton. 

“So when we had the first Spanish mass, it was a gift from God.” Said Arias.

“We are more identify because we understand the whole mass, the whole process, you know, done in our language.” Said Eugenio Sosa, Worshiper at Our Lady of Grace Church

Our Lady of Grace is now one of three diocesan churches in the Hazleton area to offer Spanish masses each week. St. Gabriel’s was the first.

“We are very happy that we have more options, you know, to celebrate the mass.” Said Sosa

The diocese considers these masses an important way to create an accepting and welcoming multi-cultural platform.

“And everybody can become part of the church and feel part of the church. They are part of the church.” Said Luis Rivera

Just last year, the diocese named Luis Rivera as its first Coordinator for Parish Cultural Integration. For decades, the local Hispanic/Latino population assimilated into American society but as their numbers grew…

“The ethnic culture exploded. It was good to be Latino.” Hiller says, “Embracing your heritage.” Rivera says, “Yes.” Noted Rivera

He cites an ethnographic study that revealed 51% of the Hazleton population is of Spanish origin. But Latino growth is happening elsewhere throughout the 11 county dioceses which is home to 237,000 Catholics.

The priest says, “Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe.” Congregation says. “Viva”.

St. Nicholas Church in Wilkes-Barre embraces diversity. It celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe each December 12th.

“It’s just something that we bring from Mexico and thankfully we’ve been allowed to continue our tradition, our traditions here in this church,” said Maria Vazquez Perez, St. Nicholas Church.

Keeping the faith…by building a bridge between cultures.

“Not the Hispanic church, the Anglo church. We are the church. We are the mission.” Added Rivera.

Many other churches and faiths have also included Spanish Speaking masses and services across the region.

Learn more about the Scranton Diocese