Parishioners at St. Paul church protest erasure of Mexican traditions


About 50 parishioners protested outside Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in St. Paul on Sunday over what they say is the erasure of culture and tradition from Minnesota’s first Mexican parish.

“It’s been branded as colonization, that’s how it was presented to the archbishop,” said parishioner Linda Nuñez.

They say that Aztec dancers are no longer allowed inside the church, there is no Sunday school or choir, masses previously led in Spanish are now in Latin, parishioners can no longer organize food shelves or clothing drives, such as helping supply winter coats, and women are not allowed on the altar. Traditions surrounding funeral services and Day of the Dead have been minimized and the number of fundraisers to help the community are limited.

While parishioners acknowledge some of the changes were in response to the pandemic, they say some of the shifts go beyond COVID-19 precautions and exhibit a lack of respect from church leadership toward founders of the church.

Our Lady of Guadalupe has a 90-year history in St. Paul. It was founded as a mission in 1931 in the West Side Flats. Flooding and the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority forced the church to find a new home on Concord Street, where it’s remained since the late 1950s.

Among the dozens of parishioners protesting on Sunday, many are third-generation and grew up going to mass with their parents and immigrant grandparents who were founding members of the church. They say that a fairly new priest, the Rev. Andrew Brinkman, is responsible for changes that have steadily stripped away traditions they’ve known for decades.

Vincent Mendez said that “it feels like we’re being forced out again.”

“I’m not here to judge the leadership. We just want to save our church,” he said.

But there is a petition circulating to remove Brinkman. The 36-year-old started leading his first parish at Our Lady of Guadalupe in 2018 after joining in an administrative role in 2016.

Earlier this year, he initiated a study to make cosmetic changes to the church that parishioners say would remove historic, imported stained glass from Mexico and traditional murals and statues. And others cited the tone and attitude of his liturgy as dogmatic and expressed the need for him to have a mentor to help guide his leadership style.

About four months ago, parishioners began raising concerns with the archdiocese and were transparent about plans to protest if concerns went unaddressed.

Abel Piñeirosaid Brinkman “has received feedback to indicate that he’s not been sufficiently culturally informed, which has led to a sizable group in our parish being estranged and marginalized.”

Brinkman did not respond to a request for comment. The Rev. Michael Tix, with the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, said in a statement that there is “ongoing dialogue” between parish leadership and parishioners that he and Archbishop Bernard Hebda are involved with.

“Some expressing concerns about a series of changes and others expressing support for their pastor and excitement concerning the direction that the parish is taking in continuing to serve not only long-time parishioners but also recent Latino immigrants,” Tix said.

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