I'm going to turn the blog space over to my pastor, Father Joe Nangle, today because I think his article in the Summer 2009 issue of our parish newsletter, The Advocate, gives a true picture of what ministering to the Hispanic community really means. It is not for those who are sticklers for punctuality or excruciatingly correct liturgy. You have to go with the flow or, as a mutual friend of ours Sally is fond of saying, "have a lot of ambiguity tolerance." Gracias, Padre José por su servicio a nuestra comunidad y feliz cumpleaños (we just celebrated Father Joe's birthday with him).
Some months ago a visitor to the 1:00 p.m. Community at Our Lady Queen of Peace commented on the hispanic congregation that gathers there each Sunday, saying that they find with us a place of safety, welcome, and "at-homeness." This person was himself from Latin America, and obviously very familiar with the United States, so I judged that he knew whereof he spoke. His observation gratified me enormously.
The Catholic Church in the United States distinguished itself for most of a century as a harbor for immigrant populations. The local parish for Irish, German, and Italian newcomers to these shores became their principal geographical identity. "I’m from St. Boniface's", "I'm from Sacred Heart," or "I'm from St. Patrick's" located the recent arrivals, and eventually their children, grandchildren, and extended families, far more precisely than other neighborhood designations or street addresses.
Once again it seems that a similar phenomenon is taking place at Queen of Peace. We have in our 1:00 p.m. Community people with roots in El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. In the new and sometimes frightening reality that is our country they connect with the parish, identify with it, and clearly love it. This situation, I believe, continues the wonderful tradition of the strong parish life that has blessed the Church in our country. Once again the parish, our parish, stands as a place where the stranger is welcomed, the alien feels at home, and the at-risk foreigner finds safe haven. With reason, the Cardinal of Los Angeles, Roger Mahony, declared some years ago that he would break the law and go to jail if legislation in our country were to prohibit attention and service to this latest wave of immigrants to our country.
Perhaps two anecdotes will highlight the importance of what goes on Sunday after Sunday at 1:00 p.m. at Our Lady Queen of Peace.
Everyone knows that the Mass in Spanish generally begins anywhere from 1:10 to 1:25. This is cultural, if somewhat inefficient. But most of the Community understands, accepts, and indeed plays into our traditional late start.
One Sunday about 1:15 we seemed about ready to begin Mass. The people had greeted each other, I had journeyed up and down the aisle saying hello to folks, and the folk group had warmed up. So I signaled them from the back to begin the opening song. At that moment a small and somewhat elderly woman tugged at my sleeve and asked if she could go to confession.
My immediate reaction was to tell her that we had spent enough time with the preliminaries and that we needed to begin Mass, so she should come back afterwards for her confession. However, something inside me made me wave off the folk group and take the woman into the confessional room at the back of the church. It turned out that she really did not want to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation; she wanted to tell me that her son had been killed that day in Mexico because of a drug deal gone bad. She wanted to cry with the "Padre" and tell me that her son was a good boy and ask that I pray for him by name during the Mass. She had "come home" that day to Queen of Peace with her terrible burden of sorrow, and I breathed a heartfelt prayer of thanks to God that I had not told her what she and so many of our immigrant sisters and brothers hear constantly: "Come back later."
In a second incident, two twenty-something brothers from Bolivia approached me to ask if some Sunday I would celebrate the 1:00 p.m. Mass for their father who had died recently in La Paz. We agreed on a particular Sunday and when the Mass started that day, I found the two young men up at the altar with a handheld camera filming the liturgy. Again, my instinct was to send them back to the pews and to have them shut off the video camera. But again, something (or Someone) made me hold my peace and put up with the annoyance of having the taping going on in front of me.
When we finished the Mass, the brothers came to thank me and to tell me that they were going to send the tape home to their mother and she would know that her sons had arranged a Mass for their father in the United States of America. Once more, a sincere prayer left my heart thanking God for not allowing me to frustrate this act of love on the part of these young guys.
Those stories encapsulate for me what the 1:00 Community at Our Lady Queen of Peace is all about. These hispanic women, men, and children are truly our sisters and brothers, and children in the household of the Catholic faith. Their expression of that faith, like their language, may differ from ours but it is nonetheless authentic and sincere. Furthermore, as a Franciscan brother of mine said some time ago with reference to the large and growing hispanic population in this country, "they are ours to lose”. I am so grateful that Our Lady Queen of Peace fosters and cultivates and celebrates the real treasure that they represent in our Church and our country.
For those who want to hear more from Father Joe, Pax Christi has published an interview with him in the Spring 2009 edition of Catholic Peace Voice: