| By Alfredo E. Cárdenas

Sacred Heart in Waco Welcomes Pilgrims

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Pilgrims celebrating the Diocese of Austin’s 75th anniversary are graciously welcomed at Sacred Heart Parish in Waco. Visitors have come from as far away as California and Wisconsin. Other pilgrims come from within the diocese to pray for indulgences granted by Pope Francis for the diocese’s 75th anniversary.

Missionary of Faith, Father Carlo Benjamin Magnaye is the pastor of Sacred Heart. Known as Father Benjie to his parishioners, he said that pilgrims participate in the sacrament of reconciliation, attend Mass and stay for the required prayers.

“The parish ensures that the site welcomes pilgrims,” Father Benjie said. “It is kept neat, simple and yet attractive.” Parishioners decorate the foyer in keeping with the liturgical season. When planning a pilgrimage to Sacred Heart, groups are asked to alert the parish of their visit so that someone is able to welcome them as they arrive.

Recently Sacred Heart welcomed groups from St. Mary Parish in Hearne, St. Helen Parish in Georgetown and Santa Rosa de Lima Parish in Andice, as well as individuals and couples from throughout the diocese.

The Franciscan order of priests founded Sacred Heart in 1957 as part of an effort to catechize Spanish-speaking residents on the south side of Waco. The Franciscans bought four acres of land and later added five more acres. Sixty-five years later, the parish continues to minister to mostly Spanish-speaking Catholics in the area, including worshipers from Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Central and South America (El Salvador, Honduras, Venezuela, Peru, Colombia and Chile). There are also parishioners of several other nationalities and a sprinkling of students from Baylor University, Father Benjie said. 

“I meet their needs by being there for the families and accompanying them in their spiritual journey,” he said.

Sacred Heart has several active ministries, including Apostolado, Guadalupanas Encuentro Matrimonial, Grupo de Oracion, Knights of Columbus, Columbiettes, Parish Council of Catholic Women and Adult Fellowship. Ministries, such as the lectors, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, altar servers, and Parish and Finance Councils, meet regularly and are involved in parish life. There are also five volunteer choirs (one for each Sunday Mass); they merge into one ensemble for special events.

The newest ministry is a Vocation Team Ministry — three couples have volunteered to promote vocation awareness and invite families and others to consider the priesthood and religious life. Currently, one individual is considering the priesthood, and two women are contemplating consecrated life.

Father Benjie and volunteers often provide pastoral care for homebound patients and residents. In addition, the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion take the Eucharist on Sundays to the homebound, hospital patients and nursing home residents. 

Religious education teachers teach the faith in three sessions: two on Sundays and one on Wednesday evenings. The parish also has a class for students with special needs. At the Easter Vigil, the parish welcomed one adult to the faith through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), which also helps adults complete their sacraments of initiation. 

Pilgrims and daily visitors are welcomed to a pristine campus, from the sanctuary to the parish hall and the rectory. Moreover, the grounds and parking areas are well maintained. 

The parish has a long history of volunteerism. For example, in 1991 when the parish built the present church, parishioners sold 750,000 dozen tamales to pay for the construction — that’s 9 million tamales! This spirit of giving is still prevalent at the parish. All staff members are volunteers. In addition, every Sunday, the parish hosts a breakfast fundraiser, and all food and labor are donated. On a recent visit, volunteers were busy preparing a fish dinner with chile rellenos. Volunteers donated the labor and ingredients, and they paid for their plates.

When Father Benjie came to the parish in 2014, he told the parishioners that the church needed some sprucing up: the flooring needed an upgrade, and the sanctuary’s interior needed some tender, loving care.

“Then I see this abuela (grandmother) walking up the center aisle. She stopped before me, took some cash from her purse, and handed it to me,” Father Benjie recalled.

“Start with this,” she said, as she handed him two $1 bills.

Others also contributed time and money, and the church built by tamales was restored to its original beauty.

75th Anniversary Pilgrimage Sites

To obtain a plenary indulgence, travel to one of the pilgrimage sites designated for the 75th anniversary before Nov. 18: St. Thomas Aquinas in College Station, St. Mary Cathedral in Austin, St. John the Evangelist in Marble Falls, St. Mary of the Assumption in Taylor, and Sacred Heart in Waco. To receive the plenary indulgence, pilgrims must complete the following:

  • BE BAPTIZED and in the state of grace
  • PRAY THE OUR FATHER and the Creed while at the pilgrimage site
  • CONFESS within a few days of the visit to the pilgrimage site
  • RECEIVE THE EUCHARIST within a few days of the visit to the pilgrimage site
  • PRAY FOR POPE FRANCIS and his intentions by saying, “For the intentions of the Holy Father,” followed by the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be.