PROVIDENCE — Silvio Cuellar, who has served in the Diocese of Providence for nearly 25 years as the longtime editor of El Catolico de Rhode Island, the Spanish language version of Rhode Island Catholic, and leader of Hispanic ministry, has moved on to serve the work of the Catholic Church on a national level.
Cuellar is taking a position with Catholic Relief Services and will work from Rhode Island in representing the New England region on national programs as a member of the Spanish Engagement team.
The Baltimore-based organization carries out the commitment of the bishops of the United States to assist the poor and vulnerable overseas.
At a March 22 celebration at the chancery, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin expressed his appreciation to Cuellar for his years of service to the diocese.
“We’re all thankful that you will still be living in the diocese and helping in many of our parishes, so we’re very grateful for that,” the bishop said.
“The Catholic Relief Services is a primary agency of the Church in the United States for helping around the globe people who have great physical, material and spiritual needs. It’s a wonderful organization, a very large organization and it represents the Church well.”
Bishop Tobin commended Cuellar for his contributions in several ministries across the diocese and its parishes.
“Thank you very much for all your work, God bless you in the days and weeks to come and God bless your beautiful family, we know that they are involved in many things also.”
In addition to his work with the Hispanic Ministry and El Catolico, Cuellar is also known throughout the diocese and across the U.S. for his leadership in liturgical music.
Several of Silvio and Rebecca Cuellar’s seven children are accomplished musicians in their own right and perform during special occasions in many parishes across the diocese.
Father Nolasco Tamayo, director of the Office for Multicultural Ministry, said that he has always been confident things would go well in ministry programs when Cuellar was in charge of them.
“It’s hard to let go of someone with the talents and leadership that are combined in the person of Silvio,” Father Nolasco said. “We have been working together for almost nine years in Hispanic Ministry, and he has been working for us for almost 25 years.”
He said that Cuellar would be a good ambassador for the diocese at the national level as well as for Catholic Relief Services, and that life is about taking chances and seeing what the world has to offer.
Cuellar, a bit emotional at the prospect of concluding his quarter-century-long career at the diocese, said that while he was excited to be embarking on a new journey, he was also a bit sad at diverging from the path he has followed faithfully for so long.
“But I am going to stay involved; I’m not going away,” he reassured those gathered.
“I’m going to be a volunteer like many of our hardworking Hispanic men and women in ministry.”
Cuellar was born in Córdoba, Argentina, where his father was studying, and raised in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, when his family returned home after those studies were complete.
He immigrated to the United States in 1990, at the age of 20, a year after his parents and siblings came to Providence.
“I came on a tourist visa and was undocumented for three years,” Cuellar said.
He worked in a factory for five years while studying at Providence College in the evenings to complete the college degree he began in Argentina. His studies included music, journalism and theology. He graduated in 1998.
In 1996, during the last two years of college Cuellar began working as a freelancer for The Providence Visitor, now known as Rhode Island Catholic.
Attending an annual dinner hosted by The Visitor in 1998, Cuellar made contacts that led to him being hired to work in the diocese’s Office of Life and Family Ministry, where he worked for 15 years, before becoming coordinator of Hispanic Ministry, where he served for the last nine years.
Joining the St. Patrick Church, Providence, music ministry 30 years ago, he would meet Rebecca, the love of his life.
“We met through music,” he said, smiling broadly.
They married 30 years ago and would go on to have seven children who share a talent, faith and love for music, as they perform religious songs at concerts, retreats, and evenings of praise and witness as a family. They also have one granddaughter.
Through his music, Cuellar, who serves as the director of music at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Providence, has developed a strong local and national identity as a pastoral musician and composer.
He is also a lecturer and facilitator of workshops and educational programs for couples and families and is the co-founder and secretary-general of the Association of Hispanic Pastoral Musicians, and is the co-chair of Episcopal Region 1 for the V Encuentro.
Around 2005, when Bishop Tobin became shepherd of the diocese, Cuellar became editor of El Catolico.
“We went color with Bishop Tobin,” he said, noting the upgrade to the paper from its traditional black and white look. “We also focused on a lot more local coverage.”
Cuellar said there is always a need for those who immigrate to this country to feel connected to their faith, just like the other legions of immigrants have done through the years, worshipping in churches where they felt comfortable with their peers.
“That’s how we pray,” he said. “When we pray, we are more comfortable praying in our own language. There’s always going to be a need to minister to them in their own language.”
For his efforts with El Catolico since 1996, Cuellar has won many national awards from the Catholic Press Association (CPA) including Best Editorial in 2005 and Best Column for “Rincón de la Familia” (Family Corner) in 2011, 2012 and 2017.
“We are very grateful, Silvio, for your generosity, your teamwork in this position and your proactiveness,” Father Nolasco said.
“Your contribution to our diocese and Hispanic Ministry has been a blessing since we were able to work with many other agencies and accomplished a lot of things that we were not able to do in the past. So, thanks, Silvio, for being a bridge among all the ministries in the diocese.”
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