During his weekend visit to the Diocese of Cleveland April 27-29, Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez concelebrated the ordination liturgy for nine transitional deacons, participated in a Welcoming the Stranger meeting, celebrated Mass, visited a parish and received an award from the diocesan COAR Peace Mission (Community of Oscar A. Romero) for his many years of support.
The cardinal, who was consecrated last summer by Pope Francis, arrived late on April 26. He and other officials from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops spent some time before that discussing immigration issues with Congressional representatives in Washington, D.C.
He briefed members of the diocesan Welcoming the Stranger committee during a meeting at Sagrada Familia Parish on April 27, sharing his thoughts on the political situation and plight of immigrants.
Sister Rita Mary Harwood, who heads the diocesan Pastoral Ministry Office, briefed Cardinal Rosa Chavez about the status of Welcoming the Stranger and initiatives throughout the eight-county Diocese of Cleveland to help immigrants, migrants and refugees. With the help of several Spanish-speaking attendees at the meeting, the cardinal said he was interested in the new Parish Companions program that kicked off recently. Its goal is to connect those struggling with immigration issues with resources to help them. Nearly 50 people attended a training session at Sagrada Familia.
The cardinal is familiar with the diocesan mission in El Salvador and spoke fondly of his interaction with mission team members over the years. He credited diocesan officials, mission team members, volunteers and those who support the mission’s work with making a difference.
He also addressed the government’s efforts to deport undocumented persons and to require those from countries whose temporary protected status has expired — or will expire — to return to their native lands. The cardinal said those countries are not ready to absorb such a large number of people.” They say ‘welcome back, but have no structure to help,’ he said, adding those returning likely may become targets of gang violence, which is a major problem. It’s creating what he calls “and internal exodus” in El Salvador.
Throughout the weekend he said the Church’s answer to these situations is that “we are one single human family and we only have a future if we work together.”
Cardinal Rosa Chavez said the mission in El Salvador “changed the missionaries and they changed El Salvador.” The work of the missionaries helped people realize they had a dignity and were all children of God, he said, adding “it was an incredible change.” This also helped people see the importance of lay people in the Church.
The four women missionaries who were killed in El Salvador in 1980 – Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, Jean Donovan and Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford – changed history here and there, the cardinal said. He has letters from the men who murdered the women. He said while in prison, they realized they made a mistake.
The women were killed just months after Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was gunned down while celebrating Mass. His canonization will take place later this year. Cardinal Rosa Chavez said the bishops of El Salvador would like the canonization to take place in that country so the poor people – those for whom Archbishop Romero was an advocate – can attend. If that can’t happen, they are asking Pope Francis to visit El Salvador.
The cardinal learned that Northeast Ohio may be home to as many as 10,000 Salvadorans – both documented and undocumented.
Some are connected to the diocese because of their ties to the mission and COAR, a peace mission that has supported the COAR Children’s Village since 1980. COAR Children’s Village provides foster care, medical care and education to children in Zaragoza, El Salvador. It was established by the late Father Ken Myers, a diocesan priest and missionary, and is administered by the Diocese of San Salvador, with support from people throughout North America.
COAR was founded soon after Archbishop Romero’s death and is the oldest organization to bear his name, said Mary Stevenson, the diocesan COAR executive director.
During the Mass he celebrated preceding the annual COAR Peace Mission benefit on April 28 at the Center for Pastoral Leadership in Wickliffe, Cardinal Rosa Chavez shared memories of Archbishop Romero and the early days of the diocesan mission and COAR, with translation help from Father Steve Vellenga, director of the diocesan Mission Office.
He spoke of solidarity, something Pope John Paul II urged, and something that Archbishop Romero followed. Cardinal Rosa Chavez recalled one time when the archbishop opened the gates of the seminary to those fleeing from violence.
“We are one family. But you were here before that,” the cardinal said, referring to the mission work in San Salvador. “Solidarity is sharing who we are, giving of ourselves,” he said, noting that the murdered churchwomen “gave their lives and we still feel it.” He asked if the women could be canonized. “Why not?” he added, as the congregation applauded.
He said he remembered Father Myers, who died in 2002, and his love for children. “I remember well him carrying children in his arms, always with a cigarette in his hand,” he added. “We need to make a statue of him with a cigarette in his hand,” he quipped.
The offertory gifts included a traditional Salvadoran presentation. There also were gifts representing the sacrifices for the children of El Salvador: a photo of Blessed Oscar Romero, a photo of Father Myers and a photo of the four murdered churchwomen; gifts representing the bounty of El Salvador: a water jug and flowers; a gift representing the bounty of North America: a Thanksgiving and harvest basket; and the bread and wine.
After Mass, the congregation headed to the Founders’ Room for the benefit, attended by about 200 people, including Bishop Perez. Fundraising goal for the evening was $30,000, which Stevenson said will be used for improvements to the chapel at the COAR mission.
On April 28, Cardinal Rosa Chavez celebrated 12:30 p.m. Mass in Spanish at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Cleveland. During his homily, he spoke about the theme of Encuentro, a four-year Hispanic/Latino ecclesial reflection and action in Catholic parishes across the country. He said we are missionary disciples and witnesses of God’s love.
At the end of Mass, he received a plaque from the parish’s newly crowned Queen of Spring, accepted a crucifix from a couple he married in El Salvador 10 years ago who live in Cleveland, blessed a newborn and the baby’s family and blessed a couple celebrating their 57th wedding anniversary.
A large crowd waited patiently outside the church to take photos with the cardinal before heading to the gym for a celebratory lunch and entertainment.
Cardinal Rosa Chavez returned to El Salvador on April 30.