Faces of deacon's family reflect the world
Immigration has made the family of Gonzalo (Chalo) Martinez, a deacon in the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, a reflection of the world.
When he spoke several years ago at a national deacons event in Spokane on diversity in the church, he said, "There are many faces in God's house."
Then he showed a picture of his family and said, "There are many faces in Chalo's house."
Chalo, whose family came from Mexico to Texas in the early 1900s, and his wife, Laura, who is first-generation Filipino, have two sons and three daughters. Their 14 grandchildren are a mix of African American, Native American, Irish and Italian heritages, as well as Filipino and Mexican backgrounds.
"We get along. It's not just because of blood. Skin color has no significance," Chalo said, challenging how society often makes skin color and immigration status divisive.
"We need to open people's eyes to accept those who come to the U.S., because diversity enriches our society," he said. "We are all God's children."
For Chalo, "all" includes immigrants, prisoners, parolees, homeless people and parishioners.
At St. Joseph Parish in Otis Orchards, his ministry includes visiting elderly members, preaching each month, strengthening involvement of Hispanic Catholics in the diocese, visiting prisoners at Airway Heights and being present to people on the streets of downtown Spokane through a revived Nightwalk Ministry.
Before becoming a deacon in 1994, Chalo was a probation and parole officer for county, state and federal governments in Los Angeles, San Gabriel, Seattle, Walla Walla, Lacey and Spokane.
To inform people of immigrants' experiences, he told of his family's migration to and their life in the U.S.
Chalo's parents were children when his grandparents migrated from Mexico to Texas, where he grew up. They left Mexico because of injustice, poverty, violence and the "misery of hiding from soldiers in revolution after revolution," he said.
"Today people leave Central America to escape danger, robbery and political corruption," he said. "They don't come to take jobs from others. They are fleeing war, famine, disease and ecological disasters like drought. They come for a better life."
His family settled in Dallas-Fort Worth as migrant workers. They traveled in caravans to do field work on farms in Indiana, Ohio and Illinois.
After Chalo's grandfather abandoned the family, his father—the oldest—went to work. His sisters and nieces called him "Papa." After his siblings married, he married Chalo's mother, who was 13 years younger.
As children, Chalo's older siblings worked in the fields and did odd jobs until his father found a permanent job at a Fort Worth meat packing plant, where his co-workers were African Americans and Mexicans. Chalo grew up in a neighborhood with black, white and Hispanic workers.
"There was no prejudice," he said.
Chalo spent four years in high school in a seminary in California with the Claretian Fathers. After studying philosophy at Loyola Marymount, he realized when he graduated in 1966 that the priesthood was not his calling. He joined the Army and for three years was a dental assistant at Fort Lewis, where he met Laura, also a dental assistant.
Chalo served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969 and returned to Los Angeles to work as a probation officer. He and Laura married in Olympia in 1969. They celebrated their 50th anniversary Aug. 23, 2019.
"As a parole officer in East and South Central Los Angeles, I met poverty, robbery and gang infestation that was likely as bad as what my parents had fled," he said.
"Many juveniles and others I worked with were first or second generation immigrants, whose families had migrated seeking the American dream of freedom and justice," he said.
Later in the federal system, Chalo met some who had experienced coyotes, cartels, injury and death enroute, crossing between legal border crossing points. He also met young men who were brought to the U.S. as children, grew up here, had never been in Mexico and did not speak Spanish, but were deported there.
When Chalo worked in the San Gabriel Valley with gang members—in and out of jail since they were 10 to 12 years old— he helped some progress through parole to earn associate, bachelor's and master's degrees.
From 1978 to 1979, he was inter-group relations specialist at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. From 1981 to 1990, he was a state parole officer in the Olympia area. For three years in Lacey, he was hearing examiner for the U.S. Parole Board, traveling around the U.S. and home on weekends.
When he became federal probation officer for U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, he moved to Spokane Valley.
Both probation and parole are alternatives to incarceration. Probation is before or instead of prison. Parole is early release from prison. As probation or parole officer, he supervised people who were to follow certain rules.
"Now, both are called supervised release," said Chalo, who applied what he learned in seminary as he saw "the life with its ups and downs."
"With faith, I see good in people. Just as the juveniles' parents, I had hopes for them. The youth would open up about what was going on inside, about their dreams and hopes. Most accepted responsibility for what they did. I saw many change their lives."
Chalo worked with offenders even as they violated parole, went back to prison and came back out.
For 23 years, he did lay ministry. The priest at Sacred Heart Parish in Lacey, where he helped with liturgy for Spanish services, encouraged him to become a deacon.
During the Archdiocese of Seattle's four-year diaconate program, he moved to Spokane Valley, was a lay leader at St. Mary, and was ordained a deacon 25 years ago in 1994. In May 2004, he earned a master's degree in pastoral ministry at Gonzaga University and retired as U.S. parole officer.
Chalo has served at St. Mary in the Valley, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Joseph in Spokane, and at St. Rose of Lima in Cheney.
For 20 years, he has served intermittently with the Hispanic ministry at St. Joseph's on Dean.
Along with being a deacon, he has been involved with immigration issues, people in the criminal justice system and as a Hospice of Spokane chaplain.
Before Lutheran pastor John Olson—who founded Nightwalk Ministry in downtown Spokane—retired in 1999, Chalo joined that ministry of presence on streets and in bars, listening to people's needs. With Deacon Kelly Stewart of Assumption parish, he is reviving Nightwalk.
He encourages parishioners at Assumption, St. Joseph's in Otis Orchards and St. Rose of Lima to bring food and clothing to homeless people.
"In Nightwalk, I don't know what I will encounter. I meet rough looking guys who ask to talk with me. They share how they messed up or lost parole. I listen to them and pray with them," he said.
Chalo has also been involved with the national V Encuentro program, engaging Catholic leaders to reach out to Hispanic Catholics who are on the peripheries of the church and society—those not actively involved in a faith community or living in at-risk situations. It started in the early 1960s, to develop liturgies in Spanish and reflect Hispanic cultural traditions.
In the 1990s, attendance at St. Joseph's on Dean was low because many Hispanics had left. Now, he said, it is "packed and active" with prayer groups and Bible studies.
In January 2018, 300 attended the diocesan V Encuentro in Othello.
In the Spokane Diocese, St. Patrick's in Tri Cities, the largest parish, is more than 50 percent Hispanic. Other parishes with Hispanics are Sacred Heart in Brewster, St. Patrick in Walla Walla, St. Vincent in Connell, and Sacred Heart in Othello.
At St. Joseph's on Dean, parish leaders encourage Spanish- and English-speaking members to mingle at events to break down barriers "and remind them we are many faces of God in God's house," Chalo said.
"We help parishioners accept their differences and feel comfortable when they are together," he said. "We help them be conscious that we all are God's children."
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, March, 2020