Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 21, 1934 when Father James J. Kane offered Madison's first Mass in Madison's Memorial Town Hall.
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JXXIII 0195WATERBURY – When an evangelical movement is named after a beloved pope, it seems reasonable to assume that it was founded by a renowned cleric or member of a religious order and accepts only fellow Catholics into its fold. With the John XXIII Movement, both assumptions are wrong.

Active now in several parishes in the Archdiocese of Hartford, the “Movimiento Juan XXIII” was founded in 1970 by a layperson, Nelson Rivera, who was disheartened by the meager attendance at Sunday Mass at his parish in Puerto Rico. Inspired by Saint Francis of Assisi’s call from God to “rebuild my Church,” Señor Rivera began organizing one-day retreats to evangelize the community. In 1973, the first three-day retreat took place at the Church of Fatima in Vega Baja, P.R.

Forty years later, the movement also thrives in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Spain, Honduras, Italy, Nicaragua, Peru and the United States. The (mostly) Hispanic movement reaches out to people struggling with addiction, crises of faith and other problems.

Father Robert Villa, archdiocesan spiritual director for the John XXIII Movement, holds four retreats a year – two each for men and women – at St. Margaret Church in Waterbury, where he is pastor.

“The first [three-day] retreat [in 1973] was attended by 24 individuals who were alcoholics or drug addicts,” Father Villa said. “It was to attract those people in the Church who have no niche in it, haven’t found a way to become active members outside of the Mass, and to encourage them to become more involved in the Church,” he said.

Father Villa said he doesn’t try to convert people. “We want to give them an opportunity to find out about the Church,” he said. “We throw the nets into deep waters so that we can reach the people that somehow the Church has not been able to reach,” he added.

In 2006, with Archbishop Henry J. Mansell’s approval, Father Villa brought the movement to the Hartford Archdiocese. It is active now at St. Joseph in Bristol, Our Lady of Sorrows in Hartford, St. Peter in Torrington, St. Rose of Lima in Meriden and St. Margaret.

What happens during three-day retreats is so personal that participants and organizers do not share details with nonparticipants. After the Mass that caps the retreat, attendees join in a ceremony in which they very emotionally discuss how it affected them.

“It’s a moment when basically the entire thing is brought to conclusion and everything they have dealt with and discussed in the three days of the intense retreat, they express it,” Father Villa said. “If there’s any forgiveness that needs to be expressed, they express it with the family members who are there. It can be a very emotional thing for many people.”

Madeline Garcia, a parishioner at St. Margaret, said she couldn’t go into details but that her experience on a retreat in August was “very beautiful and spiritual.”

She said that her husband told her about it, “but God actually showed me the way. I have learned a lot, a lot more about God, and what to expect from Jesus Christ.”

Asked how it will change her life, she said, “I will be more spiritual, pray more and be a better person, be a better mom, a better wife.”

Father Villa said that about 200 people in the archdiocese are active in the movement, either as retreatants or facilitators. Many conversions and baptisms have resulted from the movement here, he said, and many marriages within the Church have taken place between people who had been living together.

Eduardo Torres, a parishioner at St. Augustine in Hartford, said he made a retreat and now helps organize them. “After I made my retreat last year, I kept working for this movement and just tried to give to somebody else whatever I received,” he said. “The retreat is good because it tries to push you into a more intensive [relationship] with Jesus Christ. It gives [participants] some opportunity to get to know who Jesus Christ is and what he can do for us.”

Father José A. Mercado, pastor of St. Augustine and St. Anne-Immaculate Conception parishes in Hartford, said in a 2008 interview, “What’s unique about this is that the person on retreat doesn’t have to be Catholic. Some retreatants from other faiths have joined the Catholic Church. The key goal is to reach the unchurched, those who are off in the world alone. It really is a life-transforming experience to have that contact with the Lord.”

Information about participating in the John XXIII Movement is available from Father Villa at 203-754-6101. For information in Spanish, go to

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.