Cristofer Pereyra is the first director of the Hispanic Mission Office in the Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona.
Previously, the Hispanic Mission Office was known as the Office of Hispanic Ministry, but the diocese is reorganizing the office to better engage the nation’s largest growing demographic.
Hispanics make up almost 34 percent of Catholics in the United States, according to recent studies conducted by the Pew Research Center and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.
"Cristofer is a family man of deep faith and witness to Christ. His experience in developing community and media relations is among the many gifts he brings to the Hispanic Mission Office, which will be of great service to our families and the diocese in our efforts to build up the kingdom of God," Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted said in a Sept. 22 press release announcing Pereyra’s appointment.
Pereyra, 37, a married father of three children, migrated to the United States from Peru when he was 15 years old. He has been immersed in the local Hispanic community for more than 15 years, having worked as a Spanish-language reporter for Univision and also a business owner. He also currently hosts "Punto y Aparte" on En Familia Radio, the only Spanish-language radio station in Phoenix.
Pereyra recently spoke with Aleteia to discuss his background, his vision for Hispanic ministry in the Southwestern United States, and his personal faith journey.
How can the Church best serve the increasing number of Hispanic Catholics in one of the fastest growing regions of the United States?
Our evangelization has to be more creative. Basically, we need to meet Hispanics where they are, where their needs are, and allow that to be the entryway to develop a talk on the bigger topics of Church and having a personal relationship with Christ. We will also be reaching out to small business owners, for example, and try to help them in their professional aspirations, but we will try to do it in a Catholic setting. In the same way, we will be reaching out to people in the media, the Hispanic media, to help them better understand what the Church stands for. There are some initiatives we have in mind to put in place in the longterm to educate the Hispanic media on what the Church actually stands for, so when they portray the Church, hopefully they’ll do it on friendlier terms, or even if they don’t agree with us, they will at least be fair in portraying what we teach, and not make up a caricature out of our teachings.
How did you transition from the media and business worlds to full-time ministry?
Right before this position, I was a business owner. I ran a Farmers Insurance Company for seven years, and I ran that company successfully. Before that, I owned a real estate brokerage firm for five years, and prior to that I was in the media. I had been a TV news reporter for a Univision local station in Phoenix. I did have a very eclectic mix of experience, and I think some of that is what caught the bishop’s attention.
About a year and a half ago, Phoenix started a new Catholic Spanish radio station. It’s a project born here in Phoenix by some Phoenix Catholics, and I happened to be at the right moment in time when this was just in the works, when it was just an idea. I knew that some people who were friends of mine were thinking about putting this together, and I immediately told them that I had experience in the media and would be happy to assist them.
Right from the beginning, I was one of the show hosts of En Familia Radio, and that’s what got me involved with the diocese. I got to know many ministries, parishes, priests, and eventually the bishop. I really got involved and I loved it, and I began to think about how I could do this full time, but nothing came to mind, I just kept managing my business. I kept volunteering as a radio host until a couple of months ago, a friend sent me an email about a job opening for the diocesan Hispanic Mission Office. They asked me if I knew anyone who’d be interested. I looked at it. I looked at it a second time, and I realized I was interested, and I applied.
What is your vision and plan for Hispanic ministry? What do you plan to do?
This isn’t Hispanic ministry in the traditional sense. It is an outreach to the Hispanic community and Hispanic Catholics in our area. This office is a new office, born out of the former Hispanic Ministry Office.
The needs of the diocese has changed… Every department, every office in the diocese, needs to be doing Hispanic ministry. So my diocese will focus on something very specific, and there are four areas of focus that Bishop Olmsted has given me.
One, strengthening Church and community relations. I need to be in contact with the parishes that have a Hispanic population, and with the secular Hispanic community. I need to establish friendships and partnerships where appropriate, and reach out to Hispanics in the general community.
Two, bolstering communications. I’m going to be supporting the diocesan communications department in their work engaging the Hispanic and Spanish media.
Three, building stewardship. Bishop Olmsted wants me to help promote and create a culture of stewardship in Hispanic parishes, which unfortunately is lacking right now.
Four, I can be an internal resource in the diocese. There is a great need for some of the good people we have at the diocese to better understand the Hispanic community and the Hispanic culture. I’m in meetings all day long, with whatever department or office I’m getting together with. What it boils down to is helping them know what they need to know for what they’re doing and how to better approach the Hispanic community.
I also have several initiatives that I have in mind that I would like to put in place in the longterm. Gradually, all of those initiatives will have the goal of helping me advance on these four areas of focus.
How does the migration issue play into Hispanic ministry, and into your new position?
The immigration issue is very real and very close to me because I’m an immigrant and at some point, I became a U.S. citizen. My wife received her green card not that long ago after completing a very long process and waiting years to get it.
We have several family members and friends who are not there yet, some who have no hope because of their particular situation, of ever becoming permanent residents.
The issue is very close to me, and very dear to my heart. I hope with the leadership of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the leadership of my bishop, and others not necessarily in the Church, we can finally press on our government to do something about it because the status quo is definitely not acceptable.
What do you see as some important issues of concern for the Hispanic community?
There is a big need to rescue our family values. The local media—this is true everywhere
—but locally, the Hispanic media here has for the last two years had a huge push for liberal issues and support for liberal issues, anti-Catholic anti-family, anti-value issues, and unfortunately it has taken a toll on the population. I see my people, the Hispanic community, as family-oriented, value-oriented, but that is changing.
Why did your family immigrate to the United States? What was the adjustment like?
I was brought over with my mother along with my siblings. We came because my grandfather, who had been living here for a while, was sick and dying. He was in the hospital for a long time and after he passed away, we ended up staying in the Houston, Texas, area for a few years before moving to Arizona.
It was a tough adjustment. It was hard. It was a culture shock for sure. We basically were thrown into high school classes that were only in English and my siblings and I didn’t know any English. We had taken some English in Peru but it’s like when you take Spanish here, you don’t actually learn how to speak fluently. It was really a culture shock. There were a lot of things that were different, the way people acted, behaved and dressed. I guess I ended up assimilating a lot of it, but I have retained most of my culture.
I came here with all my sacraments. I can’t say that my family was a devout Catholic family. As a matter of fact, we were not. We were cultural Catholics really, and I didn’t embrace my faith the way everybody should until much later in life.
How did you come to embrace the Catholic faith?
Through the marriage prep program of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, where my wife and I got married eight years ago. It was that that ignited the thirst within me for an intimate relationship with God and to do it through the Church.
I read that you are involved with Opus Dei. How has that informed your practice of the Catholic faith?
I am a Cooperator in Opus Dei. I started going to their retreats, their evenings of recollections. I joined some prayer circles in which men get together and read the scriptures. I started learning the teachings of St. Josemaria Escriva, which themselves are not entirely original teachings, but more a resurrection of good Catholic teachings that had been neglected. Really, as I see it, most of what St. Josemaria teaches is really traditional Catholicism that has been neglected, but his big emphasis on sanctifying ourselves in daily life to me is genius. It’s simple but it’s genius and it really got my attention from the beginning, and I’m still hooked on it. I’ve made or have tried to make it the basis for my life, to offer God every moment of my day. I can’t say I’m always successful at it, but I do try every time.
is a daily newspaper reporter who writes from Fall River, Massachusetts