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Fr. Hoyos, director of diocesan Spanish Apostolate, to begin 6-month sabbatical

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When the notice went out a few weeks ago that Father José Eugenio Hoyos would be taking a sabbatical to “address health concerns and pursue ongoing formation,” the messages of concern started pouring in. 

“People are telling me they are starting novenas for me. They are just terribly worried that something happened,” said Father Hoyos, 64, director of the diocesan Spanish Apostolate since 2005, and the first Latin American in that role. 

“A lot of people in the Hispanic community, not just in the diocese of Arlington, have a lot of questions,” he said. “They expect that a leader will be with them, especially in this time of pandemic.” 

First, he wants everyone to know he’s fine — “I’m not dying. Every priest has to take care of his health, and yes, I have to be healthier. I will have some checkups. But I don’t have an illness.”

A charismatic and energetic preacher and a well-known advocate for Latin American immigrants in Northern Virginia, Father Hoyos also wants the community to understand the need for a sabbatical. “A priest needs some time to refresh his spiritual life. This is a way to become holier,” he said.

Ordained 36 years ago in his native Buga, Colombia, Father Hoyos has spent the past 30 years in the Arlington diocese, and admits he has “a curiosity about how to be a priest in my own country.” 

When his sabbatical begins Nov. 10, he will spend six months in Colombia, where he said the archbishop has given him permission to work with “the poorest of the poor,” Colombia’s indigenous people and African descendants.

“I am very excited to begin a new pastoral experience, and it will bring new ideas and new pastoral projects to my ministry in the future,” he said. “I am more Americanized than a Colombian,” he added, so he thinks it will be good to get back to his roots, take some courses, and spend time with family. He is the eighth of 12 siblings. 

Although Father Hoyos already wrote columns, had a radio show and was active on social media before the pandemic, he said his online following exploded with COVID-19, and people started calling him “the YouTuber priest.” He now has 172,000 YouTube followers from all over the world, and an additional 100,000 on other social media, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. 

When the pandemic began, “all of the platforms became very high,” he said. “Social media has been a very powerful tool for us.” He said he aims to keep posting when he is away. He said he posts in the morning about the Gospels and in the afternoon about practical issues and advice, such as health information about COVID-19 and ways to reduce risk. 

Father Hoyos said he has been gratified that “the Diocese of Arlington is responding very positively to the Hispanic community, and Bishop (Michael F.) Burbidge is very supportive.” He said he believes the ministry must “be seen as an integral part” of the work of the diocese. “This office is so important, to have somebody supporting the Hispanic community. They are part of this diocese,” he said. 

He added that it is a very young community, with many teens and young adults; the number of Hispanic parishioners is “growing in every church,” he said. 

Although many parishioners have not yet returned to in-person Masses because of concerns about the coronavirus, he predicts that “post-pandemic, we will see another influx of Latinos to churches. People are desperate, trying to come again to the Catholic faith,” he said. COVID-19 has brought “suffering, panic, terror and fear about dying. They are still trusting the church. Hispanics love the Catholic faith.” 

Father Hoyos knows he has made “a lot of connections with people,” and that his time away will have an impact on the Hispanic community. But he wants to assure the community that “our Bishop, he really is supporting us.”

A new director for the Spanish Apostolate has not yet been named, but when Father Hoyos returns from his sabbatical, Bishop Burbidge “will send me where the Hispanics need me,” he said. He was incardinated into the Arlington diocese in 2000. He has served previously at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington (1989-93), St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church (1993-2001) and Holy Family Church in Dale City (2001-05).

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020