Enthusiasm and hope are brimming among Mexican Catholics in Brooklyn and Queens over Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to their native country, Feb. 12-17.
“I’m so happy. Everybody is,” said Mexican native Luciano Meneses, a member of St. Laurence parish, East New York. “He is the first Spanish pope and he’s going to Mexico. I believe God is sending him.”
That faith and excitement will be palpable at St. Brigid Church in Bushwick this Saturday evening, Feb. 6, when Mexican Catholics in the diocese will hold a 7 p.m. Mass to pray for the Holy Father and his intentions in Mexico. Father Jorge Ortiz, parish administrator and diocesan coordinator of ministry to Mexicans, will be the celebrant.
The Mexican Consulate estimates over 1.5 million Mexicans live in the tri-state area, according to Father Ortiz. “And we believe there are more than half a million in Brooklyn and Queens,” he said, with the largest groups in Corona, Jackson Heights and Astoria.
The diocese formed a ministry to Mexican-Americans and immigrants three years ago, and the ministry’s major event is the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Nearly 3,000 children of Guadalupe participated in the recent festivities.
While many wanted to go home for the pope’s visit, circumstances ranging from work and finances to legal concerns, will keep them stateside, while Father Ortiz goes in their stead.
A native of Mexico City, he is proud to have the pope visit his homeland, and honored to have the opportunity to be there for the occasion. He’ll be part of the team providing coverage of the papal visit for NET-TV in Mexico City and Chiapas.
“I’m going to see what the people in Mexico feel about the visit of the pope, and so that the Mexican people here can be connected to them, to see that we’re all together in faith,” he said.
The papal visit is a cause for hopeful anticipation in Mexico, he said, “because first of all, he’s (Pope Francis) from Latin America. …
“And because of the moment Mexico is passing through … with the government, poverty, economic crisis, drugs and drug cartels.”
During his five-day trip, the pontiff will go to Mexico City, Ecatepec, Chiapas, Morelia and Ciudad Juarez. He’ll enter some of the country’s poorest areas, where drugs and violence are inextricably linked to daily life.
Father Ortiz believes the pope is going to these regions to bring consolation to the suffering, to give them hope and help them see the love of Christ.
“I believe that people are expecting a word of hope, courage. It’s not that he’s going to change things there. No. He’s going to give support – to help them cling to the Cross,” he said.
Alberto Martinez, a native of Puebla, Mexico, and parishioner at Immaculate Conception Church, Astoria, feels the pope’s visit will give relatives and neighbors back home the “motivation to keep going, to keep their spirits strong.”
His wife Angelica believes the visit will help residents “keep fighting for what they believe.”
As a sign of respect and love for the people and their patroness, the pontiff will visit and offer Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine on the second day of his trip. The shrine is located in Mexico City, which is home to an estimated 20 million people.
Youth make up a large portion of the nation’s population, and are suffering because of social and economic ills. The pope will meet with both families and youth during his visit.
Education is “very limited, expensive,” Father Ortiz pointed out. It is not a priority of the government so when youth finish high school, that is often the end of their education.
“For our youth they have a nickname, ‘ninis,’ and that means, ‘ni estudia, ni trabaja’ – doesn’t study, doesn’t work. … The only things are drugs – to be drug dealers, and prostitution,” he said.
He said parents would love to take their children away from the cartels, from the crime and violence associated with them, but it’s not as simple as moving to another town. Salaries and prospects are low.
“When you find a group of people in despair, they start to look at God from afar. They do whatever they do, not because they are bad, but in order to survive. No one else is telling them there’s another way,” he said.
Father Ortiz believes Pope Francis will “bring the Beatitudes,” and remind people that, “the answer isn’t riches or justice in this world. The answer is Christ.”
While churches remain full and “faith is the base of everything,” Father Ortiz feels strong catechesis and evangelization are needed, much as they are in the U.S. He noted that the Catholic population of the country (estimated at around 82 percent in the 2010 Mexican Census) has declined almost 10 percent in the last 20 years.
Alberto Martinez believes Pope Francis “has the power to motivate the people,” especially the youth, and hopes his message will open “a door to God.”
That door is God’s mercy.
“We are in this Year of Mercy and God is so merciful and full of justice that He is willing to … raise the sun on the good and the bad,” Father Ortiz said. “Those who are driven away for drugs or killing are also children of God. They need to hear, ‘Listen, you are doing wrong but at the same time, there is hope to come back because God loves us.”
“And hopefully peace will come,” Angelica Martinez added.