Regardless of their status under U.S. laws, local immigrants had no question about their status in the Church of Brooklyn and Queens last weekend: They felt welcomed as they came together to share faith in God and unity with each other at the diocesan Migration Day Mass, Nov. 18.
“When you gather with people who have the same faith like you do, it makes you feel at home,” said Ghanaian-born Agnes Mills of St. Catherine of Genoa parish, East Flatbush. “Even though I’m away from home, I feel I belong when I’m here with other immigrants. It makes me feel good. I am not alone.”
The annual Migration Mass honors the immigrant and ethnic communities that make up the Diocese of Immigrants. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio was the main celebrant of the afternoon liturgy at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, Prospect Heights.
Looking out into the faces of the faithful, the bishop recalled the first Pentecost when the Holy Spirit inspired Peter to speak to people from all over the world, and each heard him in their native language.
One Faith, One Hope, One Charity
“That language was the language of love,” the bishop told the multicultural congregation. “Today we speak in that same language. We all share one faith, one hope and one charity between us.”
Representatives of nearly two-dozen ethnic groups, dressed in the traditional garb of their homelands, led the entrance procession carrying banners proclaiming their international backgrounds. They offered petitions in their native tongues during the Prayer of the Faithful.
The Haitian Ministry Choir and the choir from St. Teresa of Avila, Prospect Heights, led the congregation in song, with English and Spanish refrains.
Joining the bishop on the altar were retired Colombian Bishop Alfonso Cabezas, C.M.; Cuban-born Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros; retired Auxiliary Bishop Guy Sansaricq, who was born in Haiti, and Msgr. Ronald T. Marino, diocesan vicar for migrant and ethnic apostolates.
Father Patrick J. Keating, CEO of Catholic Migration Services, preached the homily.
Reflecting on the afternoon’s Scripture readings, he pointed out a common thread of encounter and welcoming the stranger. And yet in today’s world, he said, “we gather in a climate where… immigrants are portrayed as the problem, rather than a solution,” he said.
Many brothers and sisters in the diocese are wracked with fear and uncertainty regarding their future under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
He noted that Bishop DiMarzio was recently in Washington to meet with officials from the Department of Homeland Security to plead not only for those covered by TPS and DACA, but also for true immigration reform.
Haitians were particularly anxious as they were awaiting the Department of Homeland Security’s decision regarding an extension of TPS for more than 50,000 Haitians. The announcement came on Monday that no extension would be given, and Haitians on TPS in this country would have to return to their homeland by July 2019 or face deportation.
Father Keating added, “Nearly 800,000 young persons (across the country) are facing possible deportation to the end of DACA, effective March 5 (2018).”
He urged the faithful not to allow fear and hopelessness to consume them. Rather, he reminded immigrants, both old and new, that they are not alone on their journey because the Church has always welcomed them.
“The history of our diocese is the history of immigrants, from one generation to the next, continuing that wonderful tapestry that makes Brooklyn and Queens great,” he said. “Like the tapestry, each thread depends on the support of the other.”
Aiming to build that support and promote a global culture of encounter, Pope Francis launched “Share the Journey” this fall to encourage Catholics to encounter immigrants and refugees in their communities, to listen to their stories and understand their needs.
Through the lived experience of getting to know “the other,” especially on the parish level, Father Keating said, “we realize that in many ways, we’re all very much alike.”
Lucia Perez, who is part of the diocesan Mexican Ministry, said she felt strengthened by the opportunity to gather with so many fellow Catholics from different backgrounds at the Migration Mass.
“We unite all the cultures today,” said Perez, who attends Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parish, Astoria. “We unite like the brothers and sisters we are, to be one, one in faith, and to love our God, and to represent our people.”
Justice For Immigrants
Before the final blessing, the bishop asked the faithful to do their part to help immigrants in their communities by visiting www.justiceforimmigrants.org, where they can write to their elected officials.
“Tell them you want people who are here with temporary status to stay because it’s not safe for them to go home, and that the children brought here as minors, the DACA children, should stay,” the bishop said.
Hearing Bishop DiMarzio’s plea, Mills felt grateful to be part of a Church that advocates so strongly for people, especially families, in need.
“I am a school teacher and I have children that their parents are immigrants. To hear them tell stories about their parents, it gets to your heart and makes you very sad,” said Mills, who emigrated from Ghana 30 years ago.
“The United States has always been a place that welcomes people from all over the world. I’m happy that I’ve been able to become a citizen, and it’s my prayer that every immigrant will get that opportunity.”