Put Out into the Deep

Honoring Hispanic Heritage

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

istopher Columbus, alias Cristoforo Colombo or Cristobal Colon. It is odd that one man can have three names in three different languages that celebrate distinctive heritages.  Truly, he was a man of many talents, and even names. History has exalted him as an explorer and discoverer, while some historians have maligned him as an enslaver and exploiter. History must be judged in its context and certainly not in retrospect.  What we do know of Columbus is that he did discover what we know as the New World by landing in the Caribbean in several locations.

He was also a man of strong faith.  His three small ships — the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria — carried with them Franciscan Friars who were there for the spiritual benefit of his crew.  They were also there to be ready to begin the evangelization of the world that they hoped to find.  The ships’ logs tell us that every evening all gathered on the decks for payer which ended by all singing the Salve Regina.

The annual Columbus Day Parade in New York City is one of the largest parades which celebrates the Italian heritage of this Genovese explorer. Ever since my installation as Bishop of Brooklyn, and even before, I have concelebrated the Columbus Day Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan and viewed the parade from the steps of St. Patrick’s, previously with Cardinal Egan and now with Archbishop Dolan.

Italian-Americans have always been proud to claim the birthplace of Columbus as their own.  We cannot forget, however, that it was under the Spanish flag with the assistance of the Spanish royal family that Columbus was able to outfit his exploration. So, Cristobal Colon is also claimed by those of Spanish heritage to be one of their heroes.  Certainly, every class taught in American history bases the discovery of the Americas in 1492 by Christopher Columbus and his small band of explorers.

The month of October has also been designated as Hispanic Heritage Month. The term Hispanic has come under fire as a catch-all phrase for those who are Spanish-speaking, particularly aimed at the over 20 countries of Latin-American ethnicity. Certainly, this month that celebrates the Hispanic contribution to the United States is one that recalls not only the history of the discovery of America, but also the explorations of the early Spanish explorers in California, Texas, Florida and elsewhere.

The Hispanic community according to the last Census is the largest minority in the United States. This has implications certainly for the Catholic Church because 60% of those of Hispanic heritage claim to be Roman Catholic, which is just a little less than half of all 60 million Catholics in the United States today. The Spanish-speaking of our country and certainly for our Church have been identified as the new immigrants. But we cannot forget that there are many of Hispanic heritage who have been here well before the founding of the United States. The recent history of our Spanish-speaking immigrants is the history of sacrifice and contribution to our country, its economy and culture. In our own diocese here in Brooklyn and Queens, I believe that I have met someone from every country of Latin America.  The latest influx of new immigrants are those that come from Mexico.  Over 10 years ago, there were very few people of Mexican origin in the New York City. Today, the number has swelled and no one has yet estimated the exact number.  These people are among the  hardest-working immigrants that New York City has ever seen.

The Hispanic community of today is an important one. With the new wave of deportations, family separation and the lack of the passage of the Dream Act (which was aimed at allowing the children of undocumented immigrants who were brought here to the United States by no fault of their own to remain in the United States to further their education). There has been a lot of political turmoil regarding these issues. At its core, however, the issue of undocumented immigration is one of filling the labor need, especially here in New York City.

Recently, N.Y. State Senator Reverend Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx), who distinguished himself for his stance against same-sex marriage, led a rally for fair immigration reform, aimed especially at Families United and the passage of the Dream Act. Both Archbishop Timothy Dolan and I issued a letter of support for this gathering and the intention of its organizer with whom we had met previously.  Although one might call this a “hot-button issue,” careful study of the situation would lead those of good will to recognize the complexity of this matter which, unfortunately, is intertwined with strands of racism and discrimination.

As we celebrate this month dedicated to Hispanic heritage and recognize the value of everyone’s ethnic heritage, we know that America is a stronger nation because we find unity in our diversity.  Our mission is to put out into the deep waters seeking a country unified on the basis of values and not race, religion or ethnicity.  This month gives us an opportunity to reflect on the contribution of immigrants, especially those of Hispanic heritage and welcome them to this great city which they now are helping to build.

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