"We will miss him dearly."
Those words, spoken by José Castillo, director of Hispanic Ministry for the Office of Divine Worship of the Archdiocese of Chicago, articulate the feelings of so many upon the death of Miguel Arias at age 40.
Arias, the editorial director at Liturgy Training Publications (LTP), died April 19, 2012, at home surrounded by his family.
"It's such a loss to such a wide community," said John A. Thomas, director of Liturgy Training Publications. "He's such a saintly, godly guy."
At LTP, Arias's smile and serene demeanor never portrayed the pain of stomach cancer. A week before he died, he continued his work at home, telling friend Rosario Camacho that he wanted to "keep his mind sharp." To Thomas, he explained that "he wanted to help out as long as he could."
"His mission in life was to bring people to God, and he succeeded," Thomas said. "He taught us all so much. He taught us in his actions and humility and gentleness. He knew how to teach us what we needed to know about the Hispanic community and how to bring the richness and spirituality of the Hispanic community to the United States.
"It wasn't like he just served the Hispanic community; he served the Church. He made one community in a lot of ways. There's less separateness now."
Miguel Arias came to Chicago nearly 20 years ago with little but his seminary formation in Mexico. He washed dishes to pay bills, while at the same time forming a youth group at a Catholic church. Soon, he was an editor at the archdiocesan newspaper Chicago Católico, and then with only a beginning knowledge of English, became an editor at LTP and sensitized the agency to the Spanish-speaking community. Before long, he was earning a master's degree in liturgy at Catholic Theological Union while working full-time.
His modeling of faith continued to his death. Only a week before he died, he wrote a friend, "God has been the amazing God of creation and silence, of providence and love, the compassionate God that Jesus brought not to those who felt justified by love, but as the God of those who suffer."
As Thomas said, Arias lived to bring others close to God. From the time that Arias met Castillo 16 years ago, he was part of the Hispanic Ministry's team of instructors, forming lectors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and ministers of care in their liturgical roles. Castillo called Arias "one of our best instructors," saying that he related to others with kindness and a sense of humor. Castillo remembers Arias foremost "as a really good friend, a person of faith and integrity, with a love for the Church and ministry."
That love for the Church showed where Arias placed his energy. He began working with the Hispanic Ministry team in 1996, as he started as an LTP editor. At the publishing agency, he reached out to the Hispanic community by developing books, laying the path for LTP's line of resources in Spanish, which included the workbook for lectors Manual para Proclamadores de la Palabra and would extend to the translations in the Liturgical Ministry series.
His thoughts and advice on the needs of the Spanish-speaking community influenced how the editorial team proceeded. "He was a real gift to us," said Maria Leonard, an editor when Arias came to LTP. "For those of us who are not Hispanic, he was able to help us understand the different Latino cultures—that they're all not the same and that some things would apply and some things wouldn't."
Former LTP senior acquisitions editor Vicky Tufano explained, "He was simply sensitive to what we weren't able to pick up on our antenna." Although the editors had understood the need for resources for the Spanish-speaking community, she said, it was Arias who enabled them to produce those resources.
And it was Arias who attracted Spanish-speaking people to LTP. At the first conference he attended, he was sought out. "He was very popular," Tufano noted. "All of a sudden, there was someone at the LTP booth who could think in Spanish about the cultural and spiritual concerns of the Hispanic people." She continued, "In a sense, he was the sign that we were taking that aspect of the Catholic Church seriously, and that we were committed to it."
Rev. Richard Vega was one of the Hispanic authors that Arias brought to LTP. Vega, the president of the National Federation of Priests' Councils (NFPC), remembers Arias as loving the Church and as understanding the liturgy as transformational. Just as striking was the number of people Arias knew and loved. "Miguel knew everyone and his mother," said Vega, who became a close friend. And Miguel did not know people "casually," Vega added, but was concerned about each person.
Perhaps it was that concern, along with his sense of humor and insight, that made him popular on the lecture circuit across the country. "He could speak to people who were liturgists and people in the pew. He was able to make that connection," said Rosario Camacho, program and events coordinator at the NFPC.
It was a connection that he desired for a reason. "His love for God was so intense that his main focus was spreading that love."
That was apparent to all with whom Miguel worked, whether at Loyola Press, where he developed, marketed, and edited Spanish titles from 2003 to September 2011, or Liturgy Training Publications, where he returned in October 2011.
The love was reciprocal. "Everyone, and we mean everyone, loved Miguel," recalled Terry Locke, president of Loyola Press. "We loved his passion for the Gospel, we loved his sense of humor, we loved his dedication to his family, we loved the way he cared about each and every person he encountered."
She continued, "He inspired others to reach beyond their limits. From Fresno to Miami and to innumerable small towns, he shared his love for the Lord with small groups and large crowds. In his final painful days, he summoned all his strength and spoke with passion, humor, and great affection to fellow parish ministers at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress. Those of us who knew how sick he was stood in awe as he shared his vision with everyone."
Arias is survived by his wife Alma, daughter Betsaida, his father, and many brothers and sisters.