Bishop González offers overview of Washington’s Hispanic Catholic community: The gifts we share
(Washington Auxiliary Bishop Francisco González was recently interviewed for Hispanic Heritage Month by the Catholic Standard, and here are his answers.)
1.) As Hispanic Heritage Month closes, would you give us a snapshot of the Hispanic Catholic community in the Archdiocese of Washington?
As (the late) Cardinal Hickey liked to say, our Archdiocese is a beautiful mosaic. In the Hispanic community, we have people from 20 different countries, belonging to all different races, white, black and native. At the present time, there are about 270,000 Hispanics in the area of the Archdiocese. We have Mass offered in Spanish in 38 different locations every weekend. We have 14 bilingual pastors, and eight of them are Hispanic.
2.) How diverse is the Hispanic Catholic community within the Archdiocese of Washington, and what unites them?
Sometimes we think the (people within the) Hispanic community are only migrant people, sometimes undocumented laborers. In the Hispanic community, we have people in the diplomatic corps (from) 20 embassies and the Organization of American States. We have professional people working in international organizations like the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank. We have professors at different universities. We have people in businesses. We have people who have been born here and lived here for several generations, and we also have people who have arrived in the last 20-30 years, some due to political reasons, but mainly (because of) economic reasons, wanting to improve their lives and the lives of their families. There is a lot of variety. It’s not “one size fits all.”
What unites them is first the language. Faith – we have to realize the Catholic faith has become part of the Hispanic culture, and so like when we speak about Mexico, (we speak about) Mexicans and Guadalupanos. They belong to a country, and at the same time, they have faith in Our Lady of Guadalupe. Language and faith brings them together. Then, other values like family life, and I would say, a dream of a better world. This is why many of them leave their own countries, pursuing the ideals of America – democracy, happiness and opportunities, and for this they make great sacrifices, like leaving their country of origin, which implies sometimes leaving family, the security of being with their own, so they can become true providers for the development of their families.
3.) What gifts do Hispanic Catholics offer to the Archdiocese of Washington, what can all Catholics here learn from the cultures, traditions and faith of their Hispanic brothers and sisters?
I think one of the greatest gifts to the Church, to the Catholic faith in the United States (that Hispanic Catholics offer) is the deep faith they have. They relate to God in a direct way, something that is expressed even in the language, like we say, “Si dios quiere” (“God willing”), “Dios mediante” (“God is the mediator”) and “Buenos dias le de Dios” (“May God give you a good morning”). God is always present, even in the language.
The faith is very deep, and they are proud of their faith. They are not afraid to show it in the public arena, like in processions. Over 4,000 people attend the Via Crucis (the “Way of the Cross” procession on Good Friday between Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Takoma Park and St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring).
(For) El Señor de los Milagros (Jesus as “the Lord of Miracles”), a Peruvian devotion, they have processions that last seven to eight hours through the streets of Washington, on the last Sunday in October, at Our Lady Queen of the Americas Parish. (The bishop also noted the annual Our Lady of Guadalupe procession from the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Parish in Washington to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.)
The extended family is very important, in the sense they have family celebrations where a lot of members (are invited). When one is in need, the rest of the family will help. Even in hard times, when people might lose their homes, other members of the family will give them a place to stay until things get better. The responsibility and commitment to family can be found in the fact they send so much money to their country of origin to help parents, children and other relatives.
The United States and Europe, the First World (countries) are very independent and individualistic, like the whole world moves around my desires, my goals. In the Hispanic community, you find more of a spirit of relations, we are part of a community, we are members of a family, and I benefit from that association, and at the same time, I contribute to the common good of the group. This is also expressed in words, when we relate to friends, we might call them brothers or primos (cousins), even though we are not blood related.
They (Hispanics) bring a spirit of joy, even though they might be living in a difficult situation. I believe one of the reasons ecclesial movements, like the Charismatics, are very appealing to the Hispanic community, is because of the joy, the singing, even the dancing. I might be wrong, but I’ll say the living experience of faith for the Hispanic community resides much more in the heart than in the mind.
Celebrating in the Hispanic community can be described in three M’s -Misa (Mass), mesa (that’s the table, eating) and musa (that’s the spirit). All those things are done with a lot of spirit and energy. We have a holistic approach to life which is the soul, the body, (and) the heart. Here in this country, we are accustomed to great liturgies, but sometimes they are kind of rigid. The Hispanic community prefers a more expressive, participative (liturgy). They get more involved, not just sitting in the pew.
I will agree that rejection is rare. There are still some groups that simply tolerate the outsider. Many are welcoming communities, though I wonder if we as Church have made the effort to make the immigrants feel at home.
In the Church, there are no second-class citizens. In the kingdom of God, all are brothers and sisters. That is why when we gather, we call God our Father. If we truly believe that to be the truth, and I’m sure we do, the consequence is that we have to acknowledge the other as my brother or sister.
The Church in Washington is doing something really good with the effort that is being done in reference to the New Evangelization, looking for new ways to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus, to live according to the Gospel, and to do everything with the enthusiasm that motivated the early Christians, to the point of giving up one’s life for the faith in Jesus. It is very consoling that not only the clergy here, but people in consecrated life and also the laity are so involved in learning about the faith and in proclaiming that faith, not only in words, but also in their style of life.
5.) Tell me about the roots of your own faith and how that has shaped your life as a priest and bishop?
I was born in a Catholic family (in Spain). My parents were faithful to their faith. They had five children. Two of them died while they were babies. The other three, a girl and two boys, she became a nun, my brother became a Jesuit, and myself, a priest.
In our home we were a normal family. My mother went to church daily, my father, on Sundays. He was a policeman – in my hometown, there were only two. The priest was welcome in our house frequently, so church and family were very close. That’s what I learned (about) my faith, not only in catechesis, but also from the style of life from my parents.
I like to say, I learned more (about the) Gospel from a woman who never learned how to write or read, than from my professors at the university, although they were great, and that woman was my mother. She was a joyful person, she was always singing. She was religious in attending Mass and receiving Holy Communion every day. She prayed the rosary every day, too, and always was doing something for the neighbors, especially if they were ill or in some kind of need.
I was growing up in post-Civil War Spain. There was a lot of poverty, and no person who came to our door left without something, although we didn’t have much.
As a priest and bishop, what do you carry in your heart from the example of your mother and father?
Deep faith, and the joy of living, even with pain and sacrifice. A sense of humor. Making life easier for others, sharing what you have, and placing God as the center of your life, not only asking help, but also giving thanks.
6.) A new movie, “The Way,” is about the spiritual journey of four pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. Have you ever made that pilgrimageS?
Yes and no. I have done it by car, not walking. I have done retreats myself in Santiago de Compostela. I was privileged with my brother to celebrate Mass at the altar of the saint (St. James), in the cathedral, just the two of us. I have had the privilege of talking with some of the people who have made the pilgrimage, and they have told me things which are very uplifting.
In a world so secularized, searching always for pleasure, power, etc., they are young people, they are older people who sometimes started (the pilgrimage) more as a vacation and have been renewed spiritually, and it seems the numbers are increasing, with the emphasis on young adults, people from their
late teens to the mid-30s. Having been on several vacations in Santiago, besides being a beautiful place, my experience within thebasilica, even in the midst of large numbers of people, (is that) you can find peace and tranquility and experience something that is difficult to put into words, but that speak of God and His presence.
Historically, the three main places for pilgrims are Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago. For a long time, it (Santiago) was considered like the end of the Earth. People went there for penance, to gain indulgences, searching for something that will give meaning to their lives.
What advice do you have for today’s Catholics, how can they walk with Jesus as his disciples, as pilgrims on a journey of faith in their everyday lives?
I think following Jesus is always a pilgrimage, a journey. The hope is to meet Jesus in a way, you could say, as St. Paul, that it is no longer I, but Jesus living in me. To reach that point, we need to approach Jesus, to imitate his way of acting and thinking, looking at Jesus, how he dealt with God the Father, always in obedience to Him. Even though on occasion it was difficult, like the Passion.
Also, we need to imitate Jesus, how he treated people, especially the outcast, the poor, the sick, the stranger and the sinner, how Jesus was detached from power and money and fame, as we see in the temptation (in the desert), how he looked at life. He was very much pro-life in the most all-encompassing way. As he mentioned in the Gospel of John, “I came that you might have life and have life to the fullest.”
Also, look at Jesus, how he looked at life and death, without losing hope for the Resurrection (and) the fullness of life. Following Jesus in a journey is challenging. Many times there will be difficulties and temptations and failures, but He will always be at our side, not to prevent us from suffering, but helping us in our sufferings, or suffering with us.
7.) Are you sad you weren’t at World Youth Day in Madrid? Watching it unfold, what did you find most inspiring about it?
Sad, yes, but it is hard for me to walk around. To be there, it would have involved a lot of difficulties for me. But I watched a lot on TV, and I tried to experience what was happening. While I was there in July, I was privileged to welcome the crowd with the bishop of Tarazona. It was the last stop before Madrid. I had the chance to talk to the youth. One of the things that impressed me was their enthusiasm, and the fact that close to two million young people from all over the world came to see the Holy Father, and that they had to make sacrifices to collect the money, and not necessarily to be in a 5-star hotel, but to be on the floor in sleeping bags. The behavior they had with so many people around, including those who were against the pope’s visit – I think the youth deserve an Oscar, with red carpet included!
What impact do you think World Youth Day will have on Spain?
It gave a very positive message to the city, but also to the whole country, to the world. As somebody said, (the fact that) two million young people full of life and energy, did a lot of sacrifice, just to meet an old man of 84 years of age is in itself a great miracle, a sign that God is still in the hearts of many, many young people.
8.) The Catholic Church strongly supports the DREAM Act, which would extend in-state tuition rates to Maryland residents who are immigrants but not yet citizens. The measure remains controversial, even to some Catholics. What would you say to those who oppose the DREAM Act?
I believe that the opposition in great part is because of lack of information. The attitude of many people is, “You should not get anything for nothing,” and some think this is the case. But the DREAM Act is giving the opportunity to young men and women, they are undocumented. In order to benefit from this law, the parents have to pay taxes in the past and in the future. These young men and women are not taking the place of anybody, because before going to the university, they need to go to a community college where admission is unlimited. Then in the human aspect, these students came to this country when they were children. They have worked hard to get ahead. They have succeeded in their studies and want to continue their studies. I believe this can be an investment by the state, because the DREAM Act opens the horizon for these young people to achieve success through education, and eventually as they become professionals, they will be able to contribute to society through their profession, including through (paying) higher taxes.
It is the American way to be educated. It is the American way for parents to help their children advance in life, and this is what these families want to do. They are not taking the place of anybody else, but I believe they should have the opportunity. Since they arrived in this country in the arms of their fathers and mothers, they have done nothing wrong, and their aspiration is simply to attend classes that will give them a better opportunity in life.
9.) Today more than ever, it seems like the family is under attack, as efforts are underway in Maryland and other states to legalize same-sex marriage. You were ordained as a member of the Sons of the Holy Family. Do you think devotion to the Holy Family can help strengthen Catholic families at this time?
My (religious order’s) founder, St. Joseph Manyanet told us we should work so every home will become a Nazareth. The Holy Father John Paul II stated very clearly that the future of society resides in the family, so the family is the basis for the world that can advance for the betterment of everybody.
We believe that marriage, as established by God, is the beginning of the family, and as Jesus affirmed, marriage is between a man and a woman, forming a community of life and love. This is what we offer to society.
There are other opinions. Some people think the Church should change. These new ways of life are approved by many people I honestly feel the Church cannot (change). The position of the Church comes from the faith we have, and the teachings of the Lord.
10.) What gives you the greatest happiness in your life as a bishop (besides hearing the last question in an interview)?
That the person who came to interview me is leaving now! (Bishop Gonzáles says, jokingly.)
I became a priest because I felt called to it – it was my vocation. I became a bishop out of obedience. I enjoy being a bishop, because that is what I think God wants me to be. My challenge is, I think I have not reached the level of being a holy bishop yet, but I am trying. Having ordained men to the ministry, and having confirmed many young people, it gives a lot of satisfaction to my life as a priest. I have the opportunity to be closer to other priests, and I try to be of service (to them), and being a bishop gives you more opportunities (for that).
There are reasons for personal joy. I always try to remember the words of St. Augustine talking to his congregation: “For you, I am a bishop. With you, I am just another Christian.”
God has given me a lot of blessings. I hope I will not disappoint Him. That’s why I ask you, whoever reads this interview, to pray for me, as I promise to pray for all of you.