My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
For almost 20 years, the month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 has been called Hispanic Heritage Month. Almost 55 million Americans are from an Hispanic-speaking background who come from all of the countries of Latin America and even Spain.
It is important that people maintain their heritage, especially in the United States that allows what we call the “hyphenated-American.” Americans are not homogenized people; we are people with deep roots in our own culture which give us the wings necessary to participate in the rich culture of the United States of America. No one should ever forget their origins, because this helps us to be grounded, giving us a sense of strength and unity so that we can participate in the larger society.
In our own diocese here in Brooklyn and Queens, we are greatly blessed to have a large Hispanic population with 32 percent attending Spanish-language Masses. The word “Hispanic” is a term coined in the United Sates which covers those who speak Spanish. Some prefer the word “Latino” which refers to many, especially to those from Mexico. Whatever term we use, however, it is most important that we show respect for the many cultures that contribute to the American mosaic.
In the past, we have often heard of the “Melting Pot” theory. Somehow it was thought that all who came to the United States would meld into a generic American culture. That image has been replaced by a better image, I believe, of a “Mosaic” which allows everyone to keep their distinctive characteristics, while at the same time joining together to form a beautiful picture which is the culture of the United States.
There are many elements that constitute culture. Perhaps the most basic is language. Language defines people and gives them a mode of expression which is different from other people. Here in Brooklyn and Queens, again we are so blessed to have so many language groups that form our diocese.
Every Sunday there are Masses celebrated in 30 different languages and 105 of our 186 parishes celebrate one or more Masses in Spanish each week. When I speak to people from outside our diocese, it is hard for them to understand how we manage to have, what I call, “duplex, triplex, quadriplex, and quintiplex” parishes, just like the theatres where there are multiple choices. However, it is not simply a show in your language that is chosen, but rather it is the Eucharist which celebrates the presence of Jesus in our midst.
The Church supports the need of immigrants, most especially new immigrants, to worship in their native language since any who pray usually pray in the language that they learned first. I always compliment our pastors who are able to juggle schedules, make facilities available and celebrate the Eucharist for so many different language and culture groups in our diocese, at this time the majority of which are Spanish-speaking.
An issue that affects the Spanish-speaking community is immigration since many are first and second generation immigrants, some of whom may not be here with proper documentation. Our current presidential campaign has emphasized this in many ways. As I continue to say, however, those here without proper documentation for the most part have come because there is the magnet of jobs. This is not just because our border is porous. The economic slump of 2008 saw a dramatic drop in the number of people coming to the United States, both legally and illegally, documented and undocumented. The basis of our national identity is a nation of opportunities: work and education.
Many times people misunderstand the issue of integration. Integration, again in the mosaic context, means that people integrate and enter the majority culture with others without losing their own identities. This takes place in different ways and in different time frames for many groups. The fact is, our Spanish-speaking people today are integrating at a rate which excels the integration of the past.
Perhaps one of the greatest integration tools is the media, especially our television and radio programs, although people sometimes prefer media in their native language which is necessary to maintain their cultural heritage. The children of immigrants are integrating at a much faster pace than in the past.
I take this opportunity to congratulate and compliment our Spanish-speaking diocesan members for their participation in the life of the Church. They are a great presence in over 100 parishes and make a real contribution to the life of the Church of Brooklyn and Queens.
Our own diocesan Spanish-language newspaper, “Nuestros Vos – Our Voice,” is growing in popularity and is distributed to all who attend these Spanish-language Masses. Another indicator of the Hispanic community’s participation in the life of the Church is the vocations that they are contributing, which sustain our Church.
All immigrant groups who come to this country put out into the deep, not knowing what their futures will hold. We anticipate and congratulate the Spanish-speaking among us as they celebrate this cultural observance in September and October.