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Archbishop Wenski's homily to Hispanic movements

Given at welcome Mass at St. Michael Church on June 4

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A few days ago I received a letter from the archbishop of Aparecida in Brazil, Archbishop Raymundo Damasceno Assis. He is also president of CELAM, the Latin American Bishops’ Conference. He wrote to congratulate me on being named to Miami. In his letter, he told me: The Church of Miami is a kind of summary of all of Latin America.

And tonight, it seems as if all of Latin America and the Caribbean have responded: “Present!” Thank you! Thank you very much!

Two years ago, the Holy Father visited Brazil, where he met with the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean. This was an opportunity for the Pope to learn close-up about the reality of this continent, which he called the continent of Hope. And today, in this celebration of my arrival as your archbishop, we celebrate the Holy Mass, in which we receive the grace of God precisely to reinforce that hope that always has accompanied the Hispanic people despite the difficulties of daily life of the nations and individuals of this immense continent. Thanks to that hope, the people of Latin America have always taken steps forward, convinced that “Yes, we can.”

As I begin my service as your archbishop, I want to ask you — and also the apostolic movements that you represent — to unite with me and with the whole Catholic Church in south Florida to take this message of hope that is so sorely needed in the world in which we live today.

According to the Pope, the richest treasure of the Latin American continent, its most valued patrimony, is “the faith in God Love” that revealed His face in Jesus Christ. And the Latin American people are a people who believe in God Love. Throughout their history, this faith has been their strength, and it remains a strength that conquers the world, a joy that nothing and no one can take away; it is the peace that Christ gained for you with his Cross. As Pope Benedict affirms: “This is the faith that has made America the 'Continent of Hope.' Not a political ideology, not a social movement, not an economic system: faith in the God who is Love — who took flesh, died and rose in Jesus Christ —is the authentic basis for this hope which has brought forth such a magnificent harvest from the time of the first evangelization until today.”

However, many of our contemporaries live without hope. The addiction to drugs is only a symptom of that lack of hope; the high rate of abortion in our Miami community (almost 30 percent of the abortions in Florida are done here in Miami-Dade) is also another symptom of the lack of hope — because children are the hope of the future; the growing number of couples who live together, not “for as long as we both shall live but until the moment it suits us” is yet another symptom of not having hope — for in order to make a commitment for life, we have to believe in the future, that future that only opens up for us when we have hope.

We also know that there are many people here in Miami who, although they are Hispanic, are unaware of that treasure, that patrimony of faith in God Love that is revealed in Jesus Christ. In some cases, the fault lies in the very fact of their emigration, in the process of which they have lost contact with the religious roots in their culture of origin. Others — and this is not a small group in our Miami community — grew up in a society that was officially atheistic. And if at one point they were defrauded by the false promises of an ideological materialism, now they are tempted by the false promises of a practical materialism that, sooner or later, also will leave them defrauded once more.

Pope Benedict, in his encyclical, Spe Salvi, offered us an explanation of why we have lost hope despite the riches that surround us. He writes: a world without God is a world without hope. When human beings pretend to live as if God does not matter, when a society or a government want to organize themselves without regard for God, hope is lost, because to cast God aside is to close the doors to that future to which God calls us.

That is why I challenge you (and I need your support and collaboration), as members of your parishes and as militants in your movements, to be witnesses to hope. Give witness of how one can live happily when one is convinced that God does matter. The apostolic movements are a great gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church — for they can reach more easily and sometimes more effectively than the parishes those people who don’t go to Mass on Sunday, inviting them to draw near and encounter Christ, the only hope that will never defraud mankind.

Hispanics already constitute the largest minority in the United States. Hispanics currently make up the largest group of Catholics — baptized, if not practicing — in this country. They almost make up the greatest proportion of the 40 million immigrants that have reached these shores — legally or illegally — since the mid 1960s, when the restrictions on immigration that dated back to the 1920s were lifted. Taken as a whole, Hispanics represent a great opportunity and a great hope for the society of the United States and for the Catholic Church in America. Their values are formed within a Catholic religious culture.

That is why I believe that Hispanic immigrants can renew American society, because they represent an antidote to the individualism and moral relativism that has infected American popular culture.

Immigrants, and Hispanics in particular, seek economic opportunity in this country; they still believe in the “American dream.” They believe that with hard work and by taking advantage of the opportunities this country offers, they can better themselves. This is reflected at all the economic levels, from the professionals to the humble migrant worker. It is reflected particularly in those whose contributions and potential usefulness to American society is doubted by many, specifically the poor immigrants who take the jobs Americans don’t want. Those jobs that Americans consider “dead end” jobs are, for immigrants, an opportunity to enter the world of work. In the daily lives of Hispanics living here in the United States, we see a living witness of the words of St. Paul: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

One of the central teachings of the Second Vatican Council was that "man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself." (Gaudium et Spes) In a culture centered each time more on itself, that values what you have more than what you are, Hispanic immigrants give witness to a “theology of giving” that is profoundly Catholic. Because, in the majority of cases, they have immigrated not only to seek their “personal fulfillment”, but to be able to help their loved ones. In many cases, coming here represents a considerable sacrifice for them - to leave behind their loved ones not to abandon them but to help them. The millions of dollars sent via remittances back home give witness to this “theology of giving.”

Hispanic immigrants offer America almost as many opportunities as America offers them. The majority of studies focus on their “labor”, their contribution to the employment pool. That should not be downplayed — especially with the low birth rate among the more established American populations and the soon-to-come retirement of people born after the Second World War (baby-boomers). However, Hispanics’ greatest potential contribution — and the greatest opportunity for America — is the contribution of their traditional values to the renewal of our culture.

To the undocumented, I say, don’t lose your faith in God, in that God Love. Because that faith — despite the current shadows — will light your way toward hope. God’s love has no borders. Made in the image and likeness of God, every human being has the same destiny — to be friends with God.

Latin Americans, because they can be “criollos” or “mestizos”, have, as their proper vocation, to announce to everyone that common destiny. Before those who want to let themselves be carried away by fear — and so build up walls of racism and lack of understanding — we have to be witnesses of a God Love, a compassionate God, a God who is Father of all — whether they “have papers” or not.

We have to announce that through our solidarity with the lepers of our day — for they are our brothers. St. Francis of Assisi once kissed a leper — we who are citizens cannot deny help to our brothers, even if it is the simple gesture of extending a friendly hand to someone who is undocumented or writing to our Congressmen to seek justice on their behalf.

And those young people raised here in Miami but without papers, without Social Security cards, we cannot forget about them. They need to get legal status in order to continue studying, so that they can make their contribution to the welfare of this country, the only country the majority of them know. They already speak like Americans, think like Americans — and this sometimes worries their parents. They eat like Americans. Why deny them the possibility of dreaming like Americans?

May the Virgin Mary gain for the children of this continent of hope the grace to dress themselves with the power from above (cf. Lc 24, 49) in order to radiate in this country and in all the world the holiness of Christ. Through her intercession, may we become disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ so that our nations might have life in Him. To him be the glory, with the Father and Holy Spirit, forever and ever, Amen.


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