“The diaconate would give me more liberty and tranquility to serve God’s people”

A woman marks the forehead of another person with ashes while others wait in line to receive ashes.
Rosa Bonilla places ashes on a young person’s forehead on Ash Wednesday at Dolores Mission Church in East Los Angeles where she has served as pastoral assistant since 2012.

An interview with Rosa Bonilla

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we want to inaugurate including more stories of women who serve in ministry in our Catholic churches and institutions. Today, we’re featuring an interview with Rosa Bonilla, pastoral assistant since 2012 at Dolores Mission Church in Boyle Heights-East Los Angeles. Active in the parish since 2003, today Rosa facilitates the animators of the Christian base communities, coordinates the lectors and Eucharistic ministers, presides at Liturgies of the Word, and helps to organize the parish response to pastoral needs in the community. Rosa is married to Carlos with whom she raised three children—Carlos, Maria and Rosario.

Talk about a moment when you felt the call to serve in Church ministry.

I grew up in a rural community in El Salvador where the community decided to build a chapel. Everyone worked with their hands to make the bricks. I was 16, and I felt so motivated by the community’s enthusiasm to create a space where we could pray and accompany one another. When the bishop came to inaugurate the chapel, he asked us to keep building the living Church of Christ. 

Tell us a story of how you serve in ministry today at Dolores Mission and why it matters to you.

I like the ministry of accompanying people in their difficult moments. I recently visited a woman whose son was hit by a car to give her a hug and to give her the Eucharist. To be present to people when they most need support – this is what I want to do the rest of my life. 

What do you want people to understand about ministry? 

We are all invited by God to look at the needs in our communities. I am simply trying to respond to the mission God has given me. At a recent Liturgy of the Word, I reflected on the Gospel of Mark 7:24-30 in which a Syrophoenician woman speaks to Jesus and advocates for her daughter to be healed. The youth were interested in this pagan woman who broke customs to talk with Jesus. It’s about love, I told them. Because we love our planet, we take care of it. Because we love our neighbors, we go out and walk for peace. Because we love our community and want safety, the priest and others organized the signatures we needed for the city to put in speed bumps on a street near the church and school. 

The global synod is talking about co-responsibility. How do you seek to work in a co-responsible way with the priests and laity of your parish? 

Members of the community know me well and they feel comfortable calling me day or night. I’m often the first one to find out about a family’s need, for example the need for the blessing of a sick person, and then I text the priests to see who is available. Often we will go together to visit the person and their family. 

What sustains you in ministry? 

The Eucharist. When I receive the Body of Christ I know that I am united with others. We laugh, celebrate and cry together in community. Recently, a 14-year-old was killed in our neighborhood. A group of mothers gathered around this mother grieving for her son. I gave her a candle and told her this was a light for her to remember she is not alone. Sometimes we have to overcome our fear to accompany people. We can’t let fear keep us from our mission 

What is your hope for this global Synod in which the Church is discerning the renewal of the ordained permanent diaconate for the social mission of the Church – that could possibly include men and women? 

My hope for the Synod is that we all become more conscious of our mission. That we all learn to listen to people and to Christ. Many women in ministry are already doing part of the work of a deacon, and we have the support of our priests and community. The diaconate would give me more liberty and tranquility to serve God’s people. On Thursdays I lead the afternoon Liturgy of the Word with Communion. There are three other women – Martita, Ana and Josefina – who take turns offering brief reflections. This ministry is deepening their faith and deepening their desire to serve the community. 

Pope Francis has been encouraging the faithful to celebrate the anniversary of their baptism. What is the anniversary day of your baptism? 

June 13th. It’s also the feast day of San Antonio de Padua, the patron of my childhood parish. 

Picture of Rosa Bonilla

Rosa Bonilla

Rosa Bonilla is pastoral assistant since 2012 at Dolores Mission Church in Boyle Heights-East Los Angeles.

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“Our St. Phoebe Day celebration was a Catholic mass at its best—coming together, unified at the Eucharistic table, getting nourished through meaningful ritual, prayerful and relevant songs, a challenging message on synodality from scripture, and engaging and honest testimonies from two women in our community. St. Joan of Arc parish today did what Jesus did years ago—fed souls and gave people hope.”
St. Joan of Arc Catholic Community
Minneapolis, MN
“Together, we are grateful that the ministry and example of St. Phoebe enlivens our community to participate in exploring the unique gifts of women in our faith community. Here at Cranaleith, we feel strongly about creating space for all those seeking wholeness and transformation for themselves, their communities and society. This retreat was an opportunity for us to do just that.”
Cranaleith Spiritual Center
Philadelphia, PA
“The icon of St. Phoebe is still present in our Chapel today, where we are able to remember her witness and ask her to intercede on our behalf.”
Rosemont College
Rosemont, PA

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