hijos E hijas de dios
There are more than a million Hispanic Catholics in the Archdiocese of New York, hailing from diverse national cultures unified by a shared language and a deep Christian faith. The Office of Hispanic Ministry serves them with special Spanish-language Masses at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and culturally savvy programs aimed at evangelization, faith formation and community building. Director Wanda Vasquez and outreach coordinator Luis Peña gave us a report on how the office – and the community – have fared during the pandemic.
Wanda Vasquez | Director Covid-19 surprised everyone because we did not know how difficult it would be to live in normalcy or how long before a vaccine would be developed. The biggest surprise from our Hispanic/Latino/Latina Catholics is that their faith in our Holy Mother Church never diminished but increased. Some who have not gone to church in a few years are returning, receiving the Sacraments, believing once again in the power of the Eucharist. Nonetheless, the virus has surged and we keep praying. Families were lost but we remain hopeful.
Luis Peña | Outreach Coordinator Times like these have not been seen in over 100 years in this country, and our Hispanic community has been disproportionately affected. It has been amazing to see the resilience and faith of these Catholic men and women across the archdiocese. Many have lost their jobs, while others have not stopped working since the pandemic began. Both groups have been hit hard, and the stress from the pandemic can be felt in every household. Faith has been the glue that has kept many families functioning.
Wanda Vasquez I am very proud of how our Hispanic Catholics stand against the storm during social distancing. Many serve as volunteers although they know it is a risk, never failing to help their pastors in their parishes and their brothers and sisters in their places of employment. Many serve as front-line workers and meet the needs of the people. For this we are grateful.
One of the most memorable experiences we have had during the pandemic was assisting our Latin American consuls with corporal works of mercy. In a recent Mass for our Mexican brothers and sisters, Cardinal Dolan blessed more than 250 remains of people who had passed away due to Covid-19 – honoring their service as front-line workers and now returning them to their loved ones in Mexico. Similar works were done throughout the archdiocese to assist our faithful who could not receive the last rites or funeral Masses.
Luis Peña Many parishes have increased their online presence, streaming Masses in Spanish. The office of Hispanic Ministry has held Zoom events and retreats to keep the community engaged. People have been very receptive to these endeavors and many are grateful that these opportunities for faith enrichment are available to them.
Since the churches reopened in late spring, we have resumed our cultural Hispanic Masses at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, following all new protocols, and also streaming live on the Cathedral’s social media accounts. We look forward to continuing to have more options available for our community during this pandemic – and afterward.
THE ROAD ahead
Luis Peña Our greatest challenge in the coming year will be working with pastors across the diocese to engage many Hispanics to come back to church once things stabilize and it is safe again for in-person meetings. The office will be readily available to meet with deaneries and pastors to tailor an outreach strategy for every parish that contacts us. With the low cost of outreach through Internet and social media, we can definitely create even more online events to keep the community engaged.
Wanda Vasquez At the time of the uprising against systemic racism, our office began having Zoom meetings on the subject. In our listening sessions, we provided information about “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” a pastoral letter released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB] in 2018. Many did not know the document existed, and were surprised that it includes injustices against Hispanics.
Unfortunately, this is nothing new: Many Catholics define racism in dualistic terms of black and white, and do not consider the various ways in which it affects everyone. Our ultimate advice for our faith communities and our parish leaders is to study the pastoral letter and share it with clergy, church groups and schools, and at home with their families. Our faith groups must be aware of racism and begin discussions on actions to combat its ugliness in society.
Luis Peña Starting this past summer, Hispanic young adults have been taking part in national and regional conversations hosted by USCCB as part of a yearlong intercultural process called Journeying Together. Among other things, in these conversations, young adults from all cultures discuss racism and racial justice. This dialogue has been very helpful and has brought together young adults from various communities in ways that can lead to healing.