By Violeta Siguenza
There is nothing as rewarding to a pastor (at least for me) as having the privilege of baptizing someone new into the Christian faith. As Latinos, we see Baptism not just as the beginning of our life in the church and of our relationship with God but also as an opportunity to celebrate new relationships and family. For Latinos, the “padrinos” (sponsors-Godparents) become not just their “compadres” (God siblings) but also the newly baptized substitute parents in case there is an unfortunate death of the parents. In Latino culture, being a “padrino” is a responsibility that you don’t take lightly; you are committing yourselves to accompany the newly baptized (ahijado-a) throughout their formative years and, in some families, into adulthood. It is not unusual that many kids in our communities are not baptized because it takes someone very special to accept this commitment, and for the family to ask someone to take on this lifelong commitment. But when you are chosen by any family, it becomes a blessing and a privilege to be invited into the intimacy of this family’s life and to be entrusted with passing along the culture to the newly baptized. Latinos expect to attend 2 to 3 preparation classes; the candidate for baptism will wear all white, and the family will provide the candle. It is not unusual for the newly baptized to receive a chain with a crucifix or with the Virgin of Guadalupe, which they will ask the pastor to bless after the worship service. Also, be aware that the family might ask for a private worship service on a Saturday afternoon because they might have planned a big celebration afterward.
When you work with Latinos, it is very important to know about their country of origin’s customs and traditions since each of them (25+ countries) celebrates baptism in their own unique way. Our siblings from Mexico include the “bolo”; during the celebration, the “padrinos” throw coins into the air for all the kids at the party to come and collect them when they hit the floor (similar to when you break a piñata). Other countries also break a piñata or bring a special music group to play during the lunch or dinner, and the party might last until 2 am. These types of parties consist of 100-200 guests, and the family takes up to one year planning the baptism and the big celebration. In contrast, other countries consider the baptism as a very private event where only the family celebrates, and the meal and celebration are very low key. Don’t be surprised to have multiple baptisms from the same family; it is difficult to find “padrinos” in the USA, since people are moving all the time or are getting deported back to their country. On the other hand, be prepared to be asked to become a “padrino” or “madrina” by some families; you can say yes, but my suggestion is to decline (it complicates your ministry). Personally, I didn’t baptize during Lent; instead, the families were required to participate in all the Lent activities and to celebrate all the baptisms on Easter Sunday. Our church was always packed for Easter. It became a community event where we even got local businesses participating (photo & video services, baptism dress stores, church decorating services, catering services, etc.).