CORONA — “Let us not love in words only, but in works and in truth.”
In the spirit of 1 John 3:18, Catholic youth handed bags of nonperishable food to needy people in the parking lot of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Corona, Queens. And they didn’t do it alone.
The other organizers were the staff of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the congresswoman herself.
The event impressed Father Manuel J. Rodríguez, who arrived only a few days earlier to pastor the historic parish in the Corona neighborhood of Queens.
He estimated the food drive served about 450 people who learned about it through announcements at Sunday Mass and word of mouth.
“It was a very good and a very warm visit,” Father Rodríguez said of meeting Ocasio-Cortez. “We had a wonderful team of volunteers. She came with her team and we got it done.”
Father Rodríguez explained that his parish is the largest in the Diocese of Brooklyn, with about 17,000 members. Mass is celebrated 11 times each weekend in Spanish and English.
“This Corona neighborhood is quite diverse,” he said, “but right now it’s heavily Hispanic. There are people from Ecuador, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and other places in the Caribbean.”
Father Rodríguez noted, however, that the area suffers from unemployment, gang activity, drug trafficking, scarce affordable housing, and the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our ZIP code is still considered one of the hardest hit,” the pastor said, noting that his predecessor, Msgr. Raymond Roden, is currently recovering from the virus.
According to Father Rodriguez, the pandemic has also killed about 70 parishioners and a few staff members.
Our Lady of Sorrows is in New York’s Congressional District 14, in which Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat raised Catholic, is seeking re-election.
The 30-year-old congresswoman — nicknamed AOC — is known for supporting high-profile progressive issues like her hotly debated “Green New Deal.”
Father Rodríguez acknowledged that he disagrees with Ocasio-Cortez on abortion. Holding to the stance of the Roman Catholic Church to protect the unborn, Father Rodríguez has lead monthly pro-life marches and demonstrations while pastoring his last parish, Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Jamaica.
The pastor said he plans to be equally active at Our Lady of Sorrows.
Conversely, Ocasio-Cortez is vocally pro-abortion. She believes that “every person has the right to bodily autonomy,” and consistently supports pro-choice legislation, according to her House website. But Father Rodríguez praised the congresswoman for seeking common ground on poverty and hunger.
He met with her briefly before the food drive to discuss the critical issues facing District 14. He said she also spent a few moments in quiet prayer at the church.
“I found her to be such a decent person, honestly interested in listening,” Father Rodríguez said. “We know that she knows well what we think [about abortion], but this was not the scenario for that. Instead, we came together to help the people.
“This is a parish of immigrants, and with her, we can talk about immigrants. We can agree on things without agreeing on everything.”
Ocasio-Cortez could not be reached for comment, but she has used social media to express concerns in her district.
“Right now,” she said in a video posted on Twitter, “New York is experiencing three concurrent crises — a crisis of health with COVID-19, the economic crisis of mass unemployment, and the crisis of racism in our systems of law enforcement.”
She added that “people are coming together in an unprecedented movement to build a better future and a better world.
“And whether it’s delivering thousands of groceries to our neighbors, introducing transformative legislation, or standing up to corrupt interests in Washington, it has been the honor of my life to fight for the Bronx and Queens in the halls of Congress.”