by Marie Elena Giossi
Clergy and lay people are celebrating the launch of a new diocesan apostolate dedicated to nurturing and preserving the faith, culture and traditions of Mexican Catholics in Brooklyn and Queens.
Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros bestowed his blessing upon the newly formed Mexican Apostolate during the 10:30 a.m. Spanish Mass at St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral, Prospect Heights, last Sunday, April 7. He installed the apostolate’s planning committee and coordinators in their new ministry and sent them forth to evangelize their parishes and communities.
“Mexicans bring great gifts to the Church,” the bishop said. “They bring a spirit of faith, a spirit of family.… Our Blessed Mother, under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, has kept that faith in our Mexican brothers and sisters, in our families, and now that gift has to flourish and has to flourish with learning what that faith means.”
In recent years, tens of thousands of Mexican immigrants, particularly from the south central Mexican state of Puebla, have settled in the Brooklyn Diocese. Much like other Spanish-speaking immigrants to this country, this rapidly growing group faces the challenges of trying to learn the language, to assimilate and to make lives for themselves.
“It was about time that we begin to coordinate a ministry to the Mexican community,” said Bishop Cisneros, who coordinated the diocese’s Hispanic Ministry Office in the 1970s and ’80s. “When there is an apostolate, when there is a group that they can go to in their parish and community, then it is easier for them to be integrated into the faith community and into the society.”
Along with Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, he has spearheaded the establishment of this apostolate, which is under the direction of Mexico City native, Father Jorge Ortiz-Garay, the diocese’s only Mexican-born priest.
“As Mary sent Juan Diego, so too are we being sent forth to bring people back to church and back to their faith,” said Father Ortiz-Garay, parochial vicar at the co-cathedral.
“Back home,” he explained, “faith is the center of our lives.”
However, when his countrymen come to the U.S. in search of jobs and a better life, he said they often lose their sense of faith, family and culture. Forced to work several, often low-paying jobs to make ends meet, they are unable to attend Mass, spend time with family and maintain the traditions of their homeland.
Faithful to Guadalupe Feast
That is why Mexican Catholics are so faithful to Our Lady of Guadalupe, because on her feast day, she brings those three elements back together.
While many still baptize and seek the traditional three-year-old and quinceañera blessings for their children, the reality is that “people are moving away from the church, little by little,” Father Ortiz-Garay said.
The apostolate will work to reverse this trend. Its mission is to evangelize Mexicans, to bring them back into the Church, to deepen their knowledge of the faith through ongoing formation, to promote vocations and to help clergy better understand the culture and traditions of the Mexican people.
Assisting Father Ortiz-Garay in the apostolate’s day-to-day operations is a small planning committee: Deacon Felipe Armendarez from Holy Name of Jesus parish, Windsor Terrace, and St. Joseph’s parishioners, Carolina Zafra and Elimelec Soriano. To reach out to people on the parish level, lay coordinators have been appointed at the churches of St. Laurence, East New York; St. Leo, Corona; Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Astoria; St. Agatha, Sunset Park; and St. Brigid, Bushwick.
“This is a great opportunity for the Mexican community to have support from the diocese to preserve their faith,” said Zafra, who is currently coordinating parish-level coordinators.
When she emigrated from Michocan, Mexico, 26 years ago, she said, “My refuge was the Church, and I was always trying to find family in my parish.” Her hope is that the apostolate will provide the same refuge for the new generation of Mexican immigrants.
Over the past few months, the planning committee has visited churches in communities with large concentrations of Mexican Catholics, such as Sunset Park, Ozone Park, Woodside, Corona, Coney Island and Bushwick, to spread the word about the apostolate.
The apostolate’s first major event will be the diocese’s annual Migration Day Mass this coming Sunday, April 14. The following weekend, catechetical workshops will be held to begin teaching parish coordinators how to evangelize their local communities.
“We’re taking our patron, the Virgen de Guadalupe as our model of evangelizing,” said Soriano. “We’re trying to have people know each other and help each other, to evangelize them and their families, and to help their children come back to the church.”