Hispanic Catholics from 20 different countries gathered at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul Oct. 9 as Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., celebrated the annual archdiocesan Hispanic Heritage Mass.
While most Spanish-speaking people in the Philadelphia area hail from Mexico and Puerto Rico, many others moved here from Spain, Columbia, Ecuador, Cuba, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Chile, Peru, Guatemala, Paraguay, Nicaragua, Panama, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Honduras, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. And many in attendance had their own individual story of immigration to share.
“I left Asturias, Spain for Cuba in 1953 to avoid Army action in Spain’s African colonies,” said Ramiro Pidal, a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Bensalem. “In 1956, I came to America to learn English, but in 1959, Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, and here I am!”
Pidal was wearing traditional Spanish clothing which his brother had given him as a gift. “This Mass each year is the only occasion I have to wear the outfit,” he said.
Sharing a similar background is Dr. Jaime Figueras of Wilmington, Del., and a former member of Maternity B.V.M. Parish in Philadelphia. He was born in 1938 on a ship traveling from Spain to Cuba, his parents leaving because of the Spanish Civil War which began in 1936. “I had Spanish citizenship from my parents, and you might say I was ‘smuggled’ into Cuba as contraband,” said Figueras jokingly, who added how proud he is to be an American citizen now.
Maria Elena Arranz is a member of St. Norbert Parish in Paoli, and has lived in the Philadelphia region since 1978. Her parents immigrated from Spain to Ohio, and she appreciates the opportunity to participate in the annual Hispanic Heritage Mass each year. “It’s nice to see the native clothing from different cultures,” she said.
Archbishop Chaput celebrated the Mass in Spanish, but delivered his homily in a noticeably different manner from years past. Instead of speaking from the elevated marble ambo, a simple wooden pulpit was brought to the center of the main aisle in front of the congregation. Archbishop Chaput delivered his remarks in English, with Msgr. Nelson J. Perez, pastor of St. Agnes Parish in West Chester, standing next to him translating each statement. “I hope you’ll pardon me for speaking in English, but I’m not smart enough to speak Spanish,” he joked.
Before commenting on the Scripture readings of the day, Archbishop Chaput emphasized his joyful anticipation of serving the Spanish-speaking Catholics of the Archdiocese. “I will love and serve you to the best of my ability, but I want something in return,” he said. “I want daughters from Hispanic families to consider becoming sisters, and sons from Hispanic families to consider becoming priests!”
The Archbishop strongly highlighted the need for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, especially from the Spanish-speaking community. While he was speaking, he invited all religious sisters who serve Spanish-speaking families to stand and be recognized, and then, he did the same for priests who work in Hispanic ministry.
“I come to Philadelphia from Denver, Colorado. I was a bishop there for 14 years. When I came to Denver we had Spanish Mass in 13 parishes. When I left Denver last month, we had Spanish Masses in nearly 60 parishes,” Archbishop Chaput said. He added that approximately 52 percent of Catholics in the Archdiocese of Denver are Hispanic. “And I saw this as a great gift to us,” he said. “The people from Mexico, from Peru, from Central America, the Caribbean bring new life to the Church in the United States.”
Music for the liturgy was provided and led by the Spanish-speaking choir from Holy Innocents Parish in Philadelphia, and the Spanish-speaking children’s choir from St. Martin of Tours Parish, also in Philadelphia.
After the closing prayer, Msgr. Hugh J. Shields, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas in Philadelphia, was recognized for his five years of service as archdiocesan Vicar for Hispanic Catholics. Then, Redemptorist Father Bruce Lewandowski, the archdiocesan Vicar for Cultural Ministries, thanked Archbishop Chaput for his graciousness, and a gift basket of Hispanic food and wine was presented to him to enjoy.
Afterward, Mass attendees were invited to greet the Archbishop, and then were treated to tamales and other refreshments at the archdiocesan building.