Wednesday, August 20, 2014

La Experiencia del Inmigrante


Más de ciento cincuenta sacerdotes, religiosas, trabajadores parroquiales, empleados diocesanos y laicos comprometidos se reunieron en Warner Robins el 12 de agosto para un Encuentro sobre el Ministerio Hispano. Fue un momento para reunirnos como diócesis para contemplar y hablar de la necesidad de estirar el brazo a nuestros hermanos inmigrantes católicos que viven en nuestras comunidades.  En sus comentarios, el obispo Hartmayer señaló que el Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) estima que 80.122 católicos hispanos viven en los confines de nuestra diócesis, mientras que la cuenta diocesana de feligreses del 2012 registró  5.524 asistentes en las misas en español. Estos números reflejan la necesidad de que la iglesia llegue a sus fieles más efectivamente para que todos sean un rebaño bajo un solo pastor.

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Providencialmente el pasaje del evangelio de la Misa durante el Encuentro fue la parábola del pastor que deja sus noventa y nueve ovejas en busca de la oveja perdida. La experiencia de la ovejita perdida refleja la experiencia del inmigrante.

Atraída por praderas más verdes y aguas más frescas, la ovejita del evangelio queda separada del rebaño.  Al encontrar praderas más verdes, llenó su barriga.  Al llegar a aguas más frescas, sació su sed.  De repente alzó la mirada y se dio cuenta aterrorizada de que el pastor y las ovejas se habían desaparecido. Lejos de todo lo que era conocido para ella, se había perdido.  Estaba distante a todo lo que la había arraigado en su gran vida como ovejita.

Las praderas eran abundantes y el agua refrescante, pero la ovejita estaba perdida. ¡Qué alivio y alegría sintió la ovejita cuando vio al pastor!  Finalmente encontró a alguien conocido, a alguien que se preocupara por ella y más importante, a alguien que la llevara de vuelta al rebaño.

Los inmigrantes se encuentran en una pradera diferente, la mayoría de las veces debido a circunstancias más allá de su control. Falta de oportunidad, hambre, opresión, desempleo, persecución, intimidación y tantas otras situaciones, convencen a miles de hombres y mujeres cada día que es necesario dejar atrás su rebaño, dejar atrás la cultura que los arraiga como seres humanos, dejar atrás el lenguaje que aprendieron de sus padres, dejar atrás estructuras familiares y sociales que son reconfortantes.  Los inmigrantes van en búsqueda de nuevas praderas verdes.

Ser un inmigrante es vivir una existencia desarraigada, viviendo la experiencia de ser desplazado como la oveja perdida. El inmigrante pertenece a ambas praderas, pero al mismo tiempo no pertenece a ninguna. El inmigrante se esfuerza por encontrar una identidad firme ya que vive entre dos mundos. ¿Dónde encuentra un inmigrante la mejor tierra para que sus raíces crezcan? ¿Dónde encuentra la ovejita perdida consuelo y alegría después de su experiencia de estar perdida?  Esto sólo se encuentra en el buen pastor, Jesús, quien no sólo encuentra y arraiga al inmigrante desplazado, pero encuentra y arraiga a todo ser humano.

En nuestra iglesia tenemos tierra fértil y praderas verdes.  Qué alivio y alegría sienten los inmigrantes cuando ven a su pastor, su iglesia, su sacerdote, a alguien conocido, cuidándolos y llevándolos de vuelta al rebaño. Esta es nuestra misión como iglesia, buscar a las ovejas perdidas para que todos seamos un solo rebaño bajo un solo pastor.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Salvation offered to all


At least one time each year, the Scripture readings of Mass present a fundamental principle of the Gospel: The Gospel of Jesus Christ is universal.  Jesus offers salvation to all peoples with absolutely no exceptions.  Nationality, ethnicity, race, legal status, intelligence, wealth and so many other elements which often create divisions in society do not matter to the eyes of God when it comes to offering His salvation.

At the time of Jesus, salvation from God to all peoples was a radical concept.  The Jewish understanding of salvation was narrow-minded: They understood that God offered salvation to them.  Everyone else, since God had not picked them as part of the chosen people, had to kept at arm’s length, they had to be avoided.

This understanding gave rise to the strict separation between Jews and Gentiles, non-Jews.  Contact with non-Jews made you impure, so for Jews to remain pure, they had limited to no contact at all with Gentiles.  Among the most despised Gentiles were the Samaritans (who practiced a modified version of Judaism) and the Canaanites (who had been displaced from the Promised Land when the Israelites returned from Egypt).

We are familiar with Jesus’ praise of a Samaritan in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  A Samaritan, an enemy for all Jews, was the only one who stopped to help a wounded man.

In today’s Gospel, we heard of a Canaanite woman who approaches Jesus begging for a miracle.
Jesus seems harsh at first towards the woman, seemingly ignoring flat out her request.

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  His words push her away, affirming that He is offering salvation to the Jews.

Yet, the woman pleads and Jesus graciously extends salvation to her.  Jesus praises her faith in the same manner he praised the actions of the Good Samaritan.   Through his words and actions, Jesus extends salvation to all peoples, regardless of background or social acceptance.

Even though Jesus’ words and actions shook up his contemporaries, what he said and did had already been predicted.  God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, we heard it in the first reading, “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”  At Jesus’ time, the House of God, the Temple of Jerusalem, could only be entered by Jews.  Jesus is now opening up access to God to all peoples, to all nations.  In the new covenant, all peoples would gather to pray together, including the foreigner and the stranger.

Some Jews did not like this.  They probably felt cheated.  They probably felt less special now that their God offered salvation to them and the Gentiles.  They were no longer “unique.”

Saint Paul had to deal with this tension since he preached mostly to Gentiles.  Paul tells the Romans that his ministry to them has made Jews jealous, yet he hopes many of them will be saved through his ministry.

Jesus fulfilled God’s plan of salvation for all humanity.  God began his work of salvation by choosing the Jewish people and out of them, in Jesus Christ, salvation was offered to the whole world.  Jesus fulfills God’s plan by extending salvation to all peoples and all nations.

The challenge presented to us today by these readings is simple: How well do we imitate God’s concern for the salvation of all souls?  How well do we imitate God’s love for every person?

Do I reach out to those different from me?  Do I consider the foreigner and stranger in my midst, regardless of skin color, legal status, handicaps etc., to be part of God’s family, part of my own family?  In God’s eyes, in the loving care of the Church, we are all brothers and sisters and the same Saving Gospel is offered to us all.

At Mass Jesus makes himself present in our midst and offers himself equally for each one of us.  He does so not just here, but in the thousands of altars throughout the world.  He offers salvation to each of us with our differences, with our shortfalls and with our strengths.

May He allow us to recognize Him not just in the Eucharist, but also in the faces of those around us here at church, those around us at work, at the store and everywhere else we may go.  May Jesus strengthen us to extend His saving work here and now by seeing Christ in all peoples, in all nations, without distinction or division.  By doing this, we participate in the spread of the Gospel by bringing the Good News to every people and every nation.

Homily for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Homily on Immigrant Experience


I gave this homily at the Hispanic Ministry Encounter in Warner Robins last week.  Over one hundred fifty priests, religious sisters, parish staff, diocesan employees and lay people gathered to contemplate and discuss the necessity of reaching out to fellow immigrant Catholic brothers and sisters living in our communities.  In his remarks, Bishop Hartmayer pointed out that the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) estimates that 80,122 Hispanic Catholics live within our diocese while the 2012 diocesan pew count recorded 5,524 attendees at Masses in Spanish.  These numbers reflect the need for the Church to reach out to the faithful more effectively so that all may be one flock under one Shepherd.



Poor little sheep.

Attracted by greener pastures and cooler waters, the little sheep of the Gospel separated herself from the flock.  Reaching greener pastures, she filled her belly.  Reaching cooler waters, she quenched her thirst.  Suddenly however she looked up and realized terrified that the shepherd and the sheep were gone.  Far from everything that was familiar, she was lost.  She was distant from what had anchored her in her very exciting life as a sheep.

The new pastures were plentiful and the water refreshing, but the sheep was lost.  She felt uprooted and disoriented.  What relief and joy she felt when she saw the shepherd!  Finally she saw someone familiar, someone who cared for her and most especially, someone who brought her back to the flock.

The experience of the lost sheep is the experience of the immigrant.  

Immigrants find themselves in different pastures, most of the time due to circumstances beyond their control.  Lack of opportunity, hunger, oppression, unemployment, persecution, intimidation and so many other situations, convince thousands of men and women every day that it’s necessary to leave behind their flock, to leave behind the culture that roots them as human beings, to leave behind the language they learned from their parents, and the family and societal structures they find familiar and comforting.  They leave seeking greener pastures.

The immigrant lives in a pasture that will never become his own, and the longer he lives there, the less he identifies with the pasture he left behind.  The immigrant belongs to both pastures and to neither.

Being an immigrant is living an uprooted existence, experiencing displacement like the lost sheep.  It is living with a blurry identity of who you are and where you belong.  The immigrant belongs to both pastures, yet at the same time belongs to neither.  The immigrant struggles to find a solid identity since he lives in between two worlds.  Resentment, depression and despair can quickly invade the hearts of those caught between two words… no wonder Hispanic female adolescents have had the highest suicide attempt rate in the United States since 1995.

For myself, growing up in Augusta, at school I was “the Peruvian kid” who spoke English a little funny and whenever I visited Peru I was the “gringo cousin” who, as time went by, spoke Spanish a little funny.  This is the experience of belonging to neither and belonging to both.

The words of an elderly Mexican parishioner a few years ago have sealed themselves into my memory: “Father, I know they don’t want me here in the United States, but if I return to Mexico my husband will be killed.  When, Father, will I find a place where they want me?”  Unfortunately, this is the experience of belonging to neither.

When a plant is uprooted, soon the plant withers and dies.  If an immigrant remains with the sense of being uprooted, he or she too will wither and die.  

Where does an immigrant find the best soil for his roots to grow?  Where does the lost sheep find comfort and joy after realizing she is lost?

In Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd who not only finds and roots the immigrant who wanders like a lost sheep, but finds and roots every single human being.

My own struggle to understand my identity as a teenager and young adult was resolved when I found my identity in Jesus Christ.  My country of birth is certainly Peru, that’s what my birth certificate states.  I was born there and without a doubt my roots are there.  This country, the United States, has helped me to develop as a person, to grow, to study, to work and to be here today as a priest.  On top of this, I am an Italian citizen with a European Union passport.  I may have two passports and a greencard, yet no country roots me as person.  It is Jesus Christ and his Church that root me as a person; as a child of God.  Only there are my roots firm and my identity clear.

I take the words of Saint Paul quite literally when he writes, “we are citizens of heaven.”  The immigrant, rising from feeling uprooted, lost and displaced, finds his identity in Christ.

In our Church we have rich soil and green pastures.  What relief and joy immigrants feel when they see their shepherd, their Church, their priest, someone familiar, caring for them and bringing them back to the flock.  We pray for the love and zeal necessary to call all of the sheep to an encounter with the Good Shepherd who manifests Himself in the Eucharist.  The Shepherd who seeks and roots every lost sheep, giving her an identity that cannot be taken away, the joy of being a child of God.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Misiones españolas de Georgia


Hace unas semanas celebré Misa en la parroquia de Darien, la segunda ciudad más antigua de Georgia y el sitio donde se construyó el primer fuerte británico en lo que hoy es Georgia.


Fundada en 1736, la ciudad de Darién fue construida donde en 1721 soldados británicos de Port Royal, Carolina del Sur, construyeron el Fuerte King George en la desembocadura del Río Altamaha, invadiendo territorios reclamados por España y Francia.  Las condiciones de vida en este fuerte que era el punto sur del imperio británico en Norteamérica no eran óptimas.  Los soldados regresaron a Port Royal en 1727,  y en 1736 el fuerte fue abandonado cuando James Oglethorpe estableció Darien con reclutas escocés.  Darien se convirtió en un importante puerto en el siglo XIX enviando madera desde Georgia a todo el mundo.


Aunque los británicos construyeron el Fuerte King George a principios del siglo XVIII, no fueron ellos los primeros europeos en establecerse a orillas del rio Altamaha. Un marcador histórico en la propiedad del fuerte cerca del cementerio indica la ubicación de la misión de Santo Domingo de Talaje, una de las misiones españolas construidas por misioneros franciscanos a lo largo de la costa de Georgia entre 1568 y 1684 con el propósito de evangelizar a la nación Guale.


Mucho antes de la existencia de Jamestown, Virginia y Plymouth, Massachusetts, ya habían frailes franciscanos predicando el evangelio en los confines del imperio español en la costa de Georgia.  Entre las misiones de la costa de Georgia la más destacada es la Misión de Santa Catalina de Guale en la isla de Santa Catalina, ya que en el año 1597 cinco franciscanos murieron como mártires.

Fiel a las enseñanzas de la iglesia, Fray Pedro de Corpa insistió en que los bautizados sólo debían tener una esposa. El heredero del jefe local, Juanillo, tomó abiertamente una segunda esposa. Cuando fue enfrentado, Juanillo reunió a un grupo de hombres y mató a Fray Pedro, dejando su cuerpo expuesto a los elementos y su cabeza en una estaca. Junto a Fray Pedro fueron martirizados cuatro frailes que predicaban en misiones cercanas: Blas Rodríguez, Miguel de Añon, Antonio de Badajoz y Francisco de Veráscola.

En 1984 el obispo de Savannah Raymond Lessard abrió formalmente el proceso de beatificación de los mártires de Georgia y los resultados de la investigación fueron presentados a Roma en el año 2007. Qué emocionante sería que estos hombres fuesen declarados mártires y beatos en estos tiempos que la población católica de habla hispana de Georgia está aumentando rápidamente y mientras que un franciscano, el obispo Hartmayer, es obispo de Savannah.


Debido a la despoblación, principalmente causada por la muerte de indígenas por enfermedades europeas, ataques de piratas y ataques de otras naciones indígenas aliadas con los británicos, el sistema de misiones españolas en Georgia estaba en ruinas al llegar el año 1684. Los misioneros restantes a lo largo de la frontera con la Florida regresaron a la ciudad española de San Agustín, Florida en 1706.

Mientras celebraba Misa en la parroquia de Darien, pensaba en los hombres valientes que dejaron todo detrás para predicar el evangelio en tierras lejanas, tierra donde estaba yo celebrando Misa y predicando igual que lo hicieron ellos siglos atrás.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Feliz 28! Celebrating Peru's Independence


Yesterday I celebrated a Mass at Our Lady of the Americas Mission in Atlanta commemorating Peru's 193th year of independence.  For the past four years the Peruvian Consulate in Atlanta has invited me to take part in the celebration.

Every year a man does the Danza de las Tijeras or Scissors Dance which is a traditional dance from communities in the south-central Andes of Peru.  The dancers hold a pair of polished iron rods which look like scissors, striking them to the rhythm of the music.  The dance is physically exhausting.  In 2010, UNESCO listed it as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.



From Northern Peru, the Marinera Nortena is a beautiful dance with roots in the 17th century that mixes Native, African and Spanish traditions.  The woman dances barefoot and both wave a white handkerchief.  The dance is flirtatious where the man slowly and but surely gets his partner's attention.


The community welcomed the new Peruvian Consul to Atlanta, Miguel Aleman along with his wife and two daughters.  They arrived just last week.





Friday, July 25, 2014

Visitando a un Santo


 

Temprano una mañana abordé el Euskotren en San Sebastián.  Deteniéndose a menudo, el tren lentamente bordeaba la hermosa costa norte del País Vasco de España. El mar azul profundo hacia contraste con la costa escabrosa. Siendo para mi imposible comprender el misterioso idioma vasco, viajé sentado en silencio admirando la vista.

Bajé del tren en el puerto de Zumaia y parado esperé el autobús. Mi abrigo, bufanda y guantes no proporcionaron defensa suficiente para evitar que la brisa helada me haga temblar. Después de una hora de camino a bordo del autobús llegué a la calmada ciudad de Azpeitia. Presioné el botón naranja cerca de mi asiento señalizándole al conductor que estaba listo para bajarme en la siguiente parada. No podía contener mi emoción, pronto visitaría la ciudad natal de uno de mis santos favoritos.

El bus se detuvo cerca de unas bancas y bajé con mi bolsa. Mientras se alejaba el autobús, vi por primera vez la austera pero hermosa cúpula señalando el lugar de nacimiento de Iñigo López de Loiola, mejor conocido en castellano como San Ignacio de Loyola.


Nacido en una familia noble menor del País Vasco en el pueblo de Loiola en 1491, Iñigo fue entrenado como soldado y resultó gravemente herido en 1521 durante una batalla en Pamplona. Mientras yacía en cama durante su recuperación en el castillo familiar en Loiola, Iñigo leyó algunos libros incluyendo uno sobre la vida de los santos y uno sobre la vida de Cristo.


Estatua de cuando San Ignacio fue traido al castillo de Loiola despues de la Batalla de Pamplona


Al sanar su pierna, Iñigo experimentó una profunda conversión. Decidió abandonar su carrera militar y viajar a Tierra Santa donde podría ser un soldado de Cristo.  No cumpliéndose este deseo inicial, regresó a Europa y asistió al seminario en París. Allí reunió en su entorno a seis amigos, entre ellos los futuros santos Francisco Javier y Francisco Borja, y fundó en 1534 la Compañía de Jesús.

Iñigo se hizo conocido por sus Ejercicios Espirituales, una colección de oraciones, sugerencias para la oración y reflexiones espirituales que es hoy un clásico espiritual. Viajó enseñando estos ejercicios, a veces teniendo problemas con las autoridades eclesiásticas que cuestionaban la legitimidad de su trabajo.


El Papa Pio III aprobó la Compañía de Jesús en 1540. Sus miembros, los jesuitas, comenzaron rápidamente a enseñar en universidades europeas, a llevar a cabo expediciones misioneras hasta los confines de la tierra y a predicar retiros espirituales.

Pasé la tarde explorando el castillo de Loiola, la basílica y sus hermosos jardines antes de tomar el autobús para Bilbao. Recé  en la sala donde Ignacio tuvo su conversión; la misma sala donde murió el 31 de julio, 1556. Una inscripción en una viga declaraba: "Aquí se entregó a Dios Iñigo de Loyola."


La compañía de Jesús ha crecido y prosperado a pesar de ser suprimida por Roma de 1773 a 1814, principalmente debido a presión política.  Hoy en día hay aproximadamente 20.000 jesuitas (uno de ellos nuestro querido Santo Padre Francisco) haciéndola la orden religiosa masculina más grande de la iglesia católica. Todo esto porque un hombre oyó la llamada de Dios, tuvo una conversión de corazón y se entregó al servicio de Dios.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Visiting a Saint


Early in the morning I boarded the commuter Euskotren at San Sebastian.  Stopping often, the train slowly wound down the beautiful northern coast of Spain’s Basque Country.  The deep blue sea contrasted with the rugged coast.  Unable to begin grasping the Basque’s mysterious language, I sat quietly admiring the view.  

I got off the train at the industrial port city of Zumaia and waited for a bus.  My heavy coat, scarf and gloves did not provide a strong enough defense to keep the cold breeze from making me shiver.  After one hour of windy roads on board the bus, I reached the sleepy town of Azpeitia.  I pushed the orange button near my seat signaling to the driver I was ready to get off at the next stop.  My excitement soared, I was about to visit the hometown of one of my favorite saints.

The bus stopped by some benches and I got off with my bag.  As it pulled away I saw for the first time the stark yet beautiful dome signaling the birth place of Iñigo Lopez de Loiola, better known in English as Saint Ignatius of Loyola.


Born into a minor noble Basque family from Loiola in 1491, Iñigo trained as a soldier and was seriously injured in 1521 at a battle in Pamplona.  As he lay in bed during his recovery at the family castle in Loiola, he read books which included a book on the lives of the saints and one on the life of Christ.


Ignatius being brought to his family castle after his injury in Pamplona


As his leg healed, Iñigo experienced a deep conversion.  He decided to abandon his military career and travel to the Holy Land where he could be a soldier for Christ.  Failing in this initial desire, he returned to Europe and attended seminary in Paris.  There he gathered around himself six followers, among them future saints Francis Xavier and Francis Borgia, and founded the Society of Jesus in 1534.

Iñigo became known for his Spiritual Exercises, a collection of prayers, suggestions for prayer and spiritual insights that is spiritual classic today.  He traveled teaching the Exercises, sometimes getting in trouble with Church authorities who questioned the legitimacy of his work.


Pope Pius III approved the Society of Jesus in 1540.  Its members, the Jesuits, quickly began to staff universities throughout Europe, to lead missionary expeditions to the ends of the earth and to preach moving spiritual retreats.

I spent my afternoon exploring the Loiola castle, the basilica and their beautiful grounds before catching a bus for Bilbao.  I prayed in the room where Ignatius had his conversion; the very same room where on July 31st, 1556 he died.  An inscription written on a wooden beam of the room stated: “Here Iñigo of Loyola surrendered himself to God.”


The Society of Jesus has grown and flourished despite being suppressed by Rome from 1773 to 1814, mostly due to political pressure placed on the Papacy.  Today there are approximately 20,000 Jesuits (one of them our well-loved Holy Father Francis) making it the largest male religious order of the Catholic Church.  All of this because one man heard God’s call, had a conversion of heart and surrendered himself to His will.


Same editions of the books Saint Ignatius read while recovering from his injury