By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator  

On a sun-coated and unusually toasty, early fall afternoon, approximately 6,000 members of the Hispanic community gathered at the state fairgrounds to celebrate the 32nd annual Latin Festival of Baton Rouge.  

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Bishop Michael G. Duca samples the cuisine at the Latin Festival in Baton Rouge. Photo by Julia Scarnato | Hispanic Apostolate 

 

Festival goers reveled in the Hispanic food featuring native recipes, high-energy musical performances by Mariachi and salsa bands, the crowning of Latin queens, children’s games and even a $10,000 raffle.  

As the sun began its lazy descent below the horizon, the Mexican band Karkiks, making its inaugural Louisiana appearance, energized the already revved up crowd even more.  

But this festival, unlike many others that dot the Louisiana landscape during the fall and spring months, was about much more than living up to its motto, “No one leaves our festival unhappy or hungry.” Rather, it was an opportunity for the Hispanic community, which has certainly been confronted with many challenges during the past few years, to come together as one family, share stories and perhaps most important offer each other encouragement and support.  

“The festival brings alive all of the different Latin American cultures,” said Julia Scarnato, director of the Hispanic Apostolate for the Diocese of Baton Rouge. “It’s an event everyone looks forward to each year because it’s a moment to be together as a family and remember the best of each culture.”  

“It allows each person to feel free in a space where everyone is respected, valued and where through a mixture of culture we can renew in the faith and universality of the Catholic Church where we all have the same spirit.”  

She added the festival allows Hispanic children who have been born in the United States an opportunity to experience their heritage in a different way and to hear their native language.  

The eight-month planning cycle was a bit more intense this year, Scarnato said, as security was beefed up because of recent mass shootings around the country, including El Paso, Texas. She admitted that even though Louisiana is a state that has escaped such violence, “we were very concerned and took extra precautions.  

“I had decided it was very important to celebrate our daily life and put fear in the hands of God. When people believe in God, all things are possible.”  

Scarnato said many members of the Hispanic community had expressed fear about attending. She visited local law enforcement agencies to express her concern and prayed for the safety of what she believes is one of the most vulnerable communities in the country.  

Bishop Michael G. Duca was also in attendance, adding a great joy and spiritual presence to the event, Scarnato said. The bishop sampled many of the delicacies and took the time to pose for pictures.  

“We have a very special bishop, kind and who has a heart for everyone,” Scarnato said. “I enjoyed seeing (Bishop Duca) eating and supporting us. It was significant and will never be forgotten.”