O riginally published in Fuller Theological Seminary’s Fuller Focus magazine. To read at fuller.edu, click here.

Journeying Home

Margarita Flores is the first Latina parish life director in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

When Margarita Flores (MDiv ’06) moved at the age of 14 from her birthplace of Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico, to Southern California—“a new world of opportunities,” as she describes it—she didn’t guess that would include obtaining her Master of Divinity from Fuller, or being installed as the first Latina parish life director in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Since 2009 Flores has filled that position at El Sagrado Corazón de Jesús in Compton, California, where she first served as a pastoral associate for two years after graduating from Fuller.

“Achieving an MDiv gave me the ability to seek greater possibilities for myself,” says Flores. “As a woman of color in an ever-changing Latino culture in America, I’ve had the opportunity to reach horizons never before opened in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles”—where the position of parish life director was first available to lay ecclesial ministers in 2006.

Flores believes that her experience as an immigrant causes her to perceive her faith as a pilgrimage. “As an immigrant, I have learned that there is no place to call home,” she says. “But I do feel that I am journeying Home!” In Compton, where the population is 73 percent Hispanic, Flores finds deep connections with the Latinos in her parish, sharing that many of her parishioners express “feelings of impotency when confronted with unemployment, discrimination, profound social differences, and lack of options for a better life.”

It is easy for Flores to connect with these feelings, remembering her own difficulty as an immigrant teenager adjusting to East Los Angeles. She had a sheltered childhood in Mexico, she shares, making her transition to the new world of Los Angeles more challenging. Flores married at 21, “influenced by my Catholic upbringing,” as well as by the fact that all her girlfriends were already married and having children. Ten years later, Flores and her husband divorced, and she continued raising their six children on her own.

Flores can name a long list of professors, mentors, and clergy who have helped her find her way—including some from her time at Fuller, such as the late Ruth Vuong, who was dean of students, and Juan Martínez, director of the Hispanic Center and now associate provost of diversity and international programs. Conversations they had helped her expand her horizons and open new paths on her journey. Further, her studies “helped me to find a voice in my own struggle, and the struggles of the women with whom I work.”

Now Flores is the one offering the vision of new horizons, and helping other pilgrims find strength on the way. She uses the holy days and seasons of the liturgical year to teach her parishioners about the journey of faith, as she offers homily reflections and spends time counseling, doing spiritual direction, and making home and hospital visits. On a recent Ash Wednesday, Flores explained, “we are reminded that we are coming from the earth—from dust—and going back to the earth. But what we are doing with our lives today is the journey toward new life.”

Flores likes to talk about the new, resurrected life we receive after death as “the new world” that is promised to us—namely, the Kingdom of God. It is, she believes, a feeling you can carry with you that gives you strength and resilience and confidence in God. “To me, pilgrimage is carrying this promise with us,” she says, “in the walk, in the process of daily life, as we begin to see the Kingdom being realized.”

Flores does just that—taking every day, every encounter, every task as parish life director, as another step toward realizing the promise of the new world, the Kingdom of God. She is responsible for the overall day-to-day pastoral care and administration of her parish, and her tasks range from managing the budget to city meetings to conducting spiritual retreats and religious education courses. “I also lead an aerobics class twice a week,” she adds, laughing. “It’s a way to bring health and fitness, sanity of mind and soul” to the 30 or so mothers who attend the class after taking their children to school.

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