The parish center at Holy Innocents Church, Philadelphia, was buzzing with excitement on Saturday, Aug. 29 as participants arrived for the beginning of a day of reflection and celebration.
This year marked the 10th anniversary of the Hispanic Heritage Mass in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In preparation for Pope Francis’ historic visit to Philadelphia (Sept. 27), the day began with two sessions focusing on the family and mercy.
Father Domingo Rodriguez Zambrana, S.T., of the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity, was the keynote presenter for the morning reflection. For more than 25 years Father Rodriguez has served the Hispanic community throughout the nation as a renowned homilist and speaker.
About 600 attendees from Avondale to South Philadelphia to Bensalem and other communities in the region showcased their Hispanic heritage. The parish center was decorated with the flags of all the Spanish-speaking countries represented in the archdiocese, with the official image of the Holy Family for the World Meeting of Families as the focal point.
Kathia Arango, director of the archdiocesan Office for Hispanic Catholics, said that in preparing for these events she hoped “to motivate the Hispanic community by spiritually preparing them for the pope’s visit.”
Arango said through Father Rodriguez’s talks on the official theme of the Sept. 22-25 World Meeting, “Love is Our Mission: the Family Fully Alive,” the priest “helped the participants understand the mission of the family within the context of love and to prepare them for what follows: the World Meeting of Families, which is the Jubilee Year of Mercy.”
Father Rodriguez said simply that “To love is our mission … a mission in which we assume the responsibility of fulfilling the duty to love one another.” He added that, “we cannot practice compassion and mercy where envy and jealousy exist.”
Filling his talks to the congregation with scripture passages and humor, he also challenged the participants to consider “surrendering your life so that you might live in abundance.”
The day of reflection was followed by the Hispanic Heritage Mass in Holy Innocents Church. Each year Hispanic Catholics in the Philadelphia Archdiocese celebrate their rich heritage with a Mass during the month of October, which is Hispanic Heritage Month.
Since the first Mass in 2005 at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, the faithful gather every year without fail.
This year’s Mass at Holy Innocents in the Juniata Park section of the city began with a grand procession including banners bearing the flags from each Spanish-speaking country, followed closely by the name of each parish in the archdiocese.
With Mary as the patroness of these countries, the procession can be seen as a visible prayer that the Mother of God leads and watches over the peoples from each nation.
Anna Vega, who served as the director of the Office for Hispanic Catholics for 18 years, was present for the Mass last Saturday. “We are a people united in one faith, one culture … we are united in love, in pain, in suffering and in joy,” Vega said, adding “we are a Marian community, a faith-filled community and we share this with everyone, not just the Hispanic community.”
Arango deferred credit for the success of the celebration. “It is 10 years of history that is not merited to me or the office; rather it is merited to the people of God who year after year celebrate the history of the archdiocese, the history of the Hispanic community, the heritage, the culture, and I saw it reflected in many ways in how the participants of the procession were excited as they entered into the church,” she said. “You can visibly see how happy they were to see their parishes represented.” She was pleased with the knowledge that the participants went home “filled, motivated, inspired and overall commissioned to live out the vocation to love others.”
Redemptorist Father Bruce Lewandowski, vicar for the archdiocesan Office of Cultural Ministries, encouraged everyone to express this unity with a warm welcome to Pope Francis.
The congregation did not disappoint, and cameras captured the moment as with one mighty voice the crowd joyfully cried: “We Love You Pope Francis!”
Since the pope knows well the warmth of a Hispanic welcome from his time in Buenos Aires, Argentina, he will likely not be disappointed by his welcome in Philadelphia later this month.