Regardless of the weather on Holy Saturday, whether the clouds pour rain or the skies remain clear, one can expect hundreds of members of the Movimiento de Jornadas de Vida Cristiana (Jornadas) to make their evangelizing presence known throughout the streets of Brooklyn or Queens during their annual Way of the Cross or Caminata.
Year after year, enthusiastic and energetic Hispanic youth assemble by their areas or “zones” and hold their colorful banners high for passers-by to see. In unison, they walk in the line of march and visit a handful of parishes along a designated route. Once they stop at a church, a lively performance takes center stage and the young people put their faith on full display for anyone to see. Step by step, they follow behind the moving praise and worship band whose members accompanied by a tambourine are singing along on speakers, publicly praising God and confidently sharing that they represent the vibrant, young Catholic Church.
As the Jornada groups assembled at Holy Child Jesus parish on a rainy overcast April 20 morning, a number of clergy welcomed the crowds – pastor of the Richmond Hill church, Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros, and Father James Kuroly, the movement’s spiritual director. Father Chris Heanue, administrator, also welcomed the Jornadas, who were joined by members of the Cursillo movement. The energy of the day was building momentum, but something was different.
For more than 25 years, Msgr. Perfecto Vazquez was a staple Caminata presence. He was the spiritual director of the Cursillos de Cristiandad, or the movement that the Jornada found its roots within. One can expect that Msgr. Perfecto would faithfully complete the Via Crucis with the Jornadas on Holy Saturday. He didn’t skip a beat, a mile or a smile alongside the young people and wouldn’t let his 80-year plus physique restrict him from singing, praying and encouraging others with his witness and his presence.
Cursillo members began to gather, dressed in vibrant light blue sweatshirts. Pictured on the front of their “uniform” was a colorful rainbow and underneath was the photo of a priest smiling. It was their spiritual father figure – Msgr. Perfecto Vasquez – and for the first time, they would be walking without him.
On what would be his final Caminata with the Movimiento de Jornadas de Vida Cristiana in 2018, Msgr. Perfecto told The Tablet the unchanging truth about the movement’s annual Way of the Cross.
“This special day of prayer prepares us for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ because His Resurrection is assurance for us that also we will have eternal life with Him in heaven, with the Blessed Mother and with the saints.”
With Msgr. Perfecto’s passing in the fall, he was physically absent. But for many that day, they also felt that spiritually their smiling priest was very present.
“I think to a certain degree his presence is missed but his love and spirit is within all of us here as we walk,” said Jornada Vice President Daniel Estrada. “For me personally, I got really emotional this morning because I just felt his presence and his spirit knowing that we’re doing this in honor of him means a lot to me. I’m getting emotional now. I know the movement and the Cursillo movement… we’re doing this together. We know his presence is with us.”
Giving a Perfect Yes
The slogan for the 2019 Caminata was “Somos siervos del Señor, deseando dar nuestro Si perfecto” or “We are servants of the Lord, desiring to give our Perfect Yes.” It was formed based on the 2019 World Youth Day slogan since a large contingent of Jornadas attended the Panama pilgrimage. But the theme also paid respects to Msgr. Perfecto. In particular, one stop on the route at St.Michael – St. Malachy in East New York was dedicated to the late retired priest from Spain.
At the parish’s entrance by the stairs, two framed photos of Msgr. Perfecto were on a table next to red candles that spelled out l-o-v-e. The Cursillo members assembled around the entrance and solemnly sang their group’s motto in monsignor’s honor, some through tears, and some through glazed faces. One member couldn’t take her eyes off the ground.
‘Hole In Our Heart’
Cursillo Director Mari Fernandez knew Msgr. Perfect for at least 10 years since she first started with the movement. She spoke a word of remembrance in Spanish.
“It’s a hole in our heart that will never be filled,” said Fernandez. “But his spirit keeps us going because he was always happy, always joyful, always moving. So that’s what keeps us moving as a movement, that’s what we have to do – follow his steps, never forget what he teached and try to be perfect like him. But the most important thing is he teaches us to be humble and to be servants of others.”
Hours before the dedication, Jornada members trekked through the raindrops in Richmond Hill onto St. Mary Gate of Heaven, Ozone Park, when suddenly towards Blessed Sacrament in Cypress Hills, the weather shifted and the rain ceased. It was as if the essence of the movement’s mantra “youth evangelizing youth” came alive. Revitalized through the energy of the praise and worship band tied with the Jornadas singing on cue, the sound of prayer through song overcame the sound of the police sirens and the subway carts screeching on the tracks above Jamaica Ave.
Wondering what all the commotion was about, more than ten young teens from the neighborhood ran towards the Jornadas. They were attracted by the music and the carefree energy of the young people processing in the streets that without thinking too long, they joined the line of march. They were immediately welcomed by the Jornadas with smiles, kind gestures and encouraging shouts as the group suddenly grew in numbers. In that moment, religious affiliations didn’t matter, skin colors didn’t divide, but instead, all were one along the Queens streets praising and worshipping God.
In 2018, the Jornada Movement celebrated 50 years as a staple youth movement in the Diocese of Brooklyn. The first Jornada retreat for women was “lived” – as members of the movement say – in 1967, while the first one for men was held in 1972. Some of the older Jornadas who lived their retreat decades before, also attended the Caminata.
Just as the neighborhood demographics in the diocese shifted over time, so have certain cultural shifts taken place in the movement. The group first encompassed more members from Puerto Rican or Dominican descent but slightly shifted to a more Central American population as the Jornadas grew older and tended to move away from their home base. Father Kuroly witnessed such changes.
“Could you imagine 20 years ago, we started in Holy Child, Mary Gate of Heaven and Nativity… these were all Italian parishes 25-30 years ago,” he said.
“Today they are filled with the Hispanic community. They are filled with young people but one thing that hasn’t changed is that the Catholic Church is still alive and vibrant. Though the faces have changed, though the languages have changed, the faith and our love in Jesus Christ never changes and so no matter what the language is, no matter what the race is, no matter what the culture is, everyone needs the reminder that Christ is alive.”
Regardless of the shifts in cultural bases, neighborhood faces or the weather occurring on the Holy Triduum, there will be a Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Resurrection Sunday.
One can expect that the young, vibrant Catholic Church will walk for whom the Spanish-speaking countries call “Chuito,” whom the Jornadistas call Jesus.