By Jorge I. Domínguez-López
Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros has just gone through a tough time. Last July, the diocese’s vicar for hispanic affairs traveled to Krakow, Poland, to participate in World Youth Day. The day after his arrival, he was hospitalized with a gall bladder attack. What was supposed to be a five-day trip became a ‘Polish summer’ – including 50 days at a hospital in Krakow and two surgical operations
“I had never felt so alone,” he says now on a beautiful autumn morning, sitting at his living room in the rectory of the Holy Child parish, Richmond Hill. With his usual kindness, he immediately added that he was treated with extreme politeness and solicitousness.
“The problem was I was so far from all my loved ones.”
This is how his describes his ordeal:
Bishop Cisneros: “I lived through very difficult days in Poland – physically difficult days, because of my illness and the operations I underwent. Emotionally difficult days, and I could even say spiritually difficult days, because I felt so alone. Alone not because there were not people to help me, because everybody there was very kind to me; alone because I didn’t have there the people I live with, the people from our diocese, from my parish, all my priest and lay friends.
“You feel really alone when you don’t have your loved ones around you. Immigrants know this very well, many people of the Diocese of Brooklyn know this very well. When you leave your family in the home country to come here looking for a better life, you feel so alone, so out of place. It’s more than nostalgia or missing your family. You feel alone. And I experienced that feeling.
Bishop Cisneros, who fled Cuba as a teenage, is a man of multitudinous loves. He is quintessentially Cuban and thoroughly American, but every ethnic group and nationality in this human mosaic that is the Diocese of Brooklyn has received his constant, unflagging pastoral care. This has been the trademark of his work as vicar for hispanic affairs. And this summer many people took the opportunity to return the love he has shown for them.
He has a well-known devotion for Our Lady of Charity, patroness of Cuba, but Mexicans are grateful to him for having started the yearly celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Brooklyn. Dominicans have heard his passionate homilies about Our Lady of Altagracia. Puerto Ricans know of his devotion for Our Lady of Providence. During our conversation, he often repeated: “Well, Our Lady is only one.”
Bishop Cisneros: “The prayers of all the faithful in this diocese, of so many friends, were a real consolation, a great support, a source of grace.
“During those days of physical and emotional pain I suffered, that feeling of unity was so important, so genuine. I was constantly receiving messages about how people were praying for me here in our diocese – in a prayer group, in this or that parish, one friend or another. Those prayers gave me so much strength! They made me realize I was not alone.
“I don’t think there is a saint in heaven who didn’t get a prayer or petition for me, especially Our Holy Mother Mary. Nurses would tell me – in a mix of English and Polish – that they were praying for me to Our Lady of Częstochowa. But I’m sure that our Holy Mother, under name of Guadalupe or Altagracia, Our Lady of El Cisne, Our Lady of Caacupé and, septically, Our Lady of El Cobre, received more than a few calls.
“I can’t finish without saying that during my illness in Poland, where I had to stay for almost 50 days, Bishop Witold Mroziewski (auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn) was by my side. His presence was for me a symbol of the love of all the faithful of this diocese, of all my brother bishops, my brother priests. He was always there, sitting in front of my hospital bed, many times without saying a word. Just by being there he was telling me ‘We are here for you, the whole diocese is here for you, I am here with you.’ That was for me a source of grace, hope and strength to carry the cross the Lord had given me during the last summer.”
Jorge I. Domínguez-López is the Editor of Nuestra Voz, the Spanish language monthly of the Diocese of Brooklyn.