Sunday, February 26, 2017

Amid Prayers For "Teddy Bear," Nashville Is Impeded

Eleven years ago this week, at his ordination to the helm of his hometown church, these pages dubbed the Eleventh Bishop of Nashville a "mitred teddy bear."

On getting to know Bishop Dave Choby after the fact, the line just became more true – at his behest, it's admittedly the only thing this scribe has called him ever since. Yet now, the wonderfully sweet, soft-spoken prelate is in need of prayers far beyond Opryland.

After years of health struggles stemming from a septuple (read: 7-artery) heart bypass surgery in 2010, weeks following his 70th birthday, a major fall at home in early February has seen Choby invoke an extraordinary provision of canon law, declaring Central Tennessee's 80,000-member, 38-county diocese "impeded" and entrusting its governance to his lead vicar-general, Fr David Perkin.

According to the norms of law, a see is impeded when "by reason of captivity, banishment, exile, or incapacity a diocesan bishop is clearly prevented from fulfilling his pastoral function in the diocese, so that he is not able to communicate with those in his diocese even by letter." Given the bishop's ability to designate a caretaker – a task required of each ordinary at the outset of his tenure, lest an emergency arise – the canons stipulate that, once the arrangement is invoked, said delegate "is bound by the obligations and possesses the power in the exercise of the pastoral care of the diocese which a diocesan administrator has by law," creating the scenario of a de facto vacant see.

Announced in a letter read at this weekend's Masses, the declared impediment of a diocese is without any recent precedent in the US church. Himself a Rome-trained canonist – and Nashville's elected administrator at its last vacancy – while Choby's letter cited "more than a handful of occasions where this has happened" domestically, the two Stateside instances the bishop recalled to aides from his sickbed in preparing the note never actually took place.

In any case, the gravity of the situation – both canonically and in terms of Choby's health – was further underscored this week by a bedside visit from the metropolitan, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, and reported consultation with the Nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, before Choby moved to trigger the impeded see.

Though the Tennessee fold formally numbers some 80,000 Catholics in the state's middle third, its reality is considerably larger. According to local ops, a massive flood of Hispanic migration (and its lack of legal or ecclesial documentation) unofficially comprises a silent membership of some 200,000 more – a circumstance especially common to every diocese in the American South, and all the more pronounced given the region's relatively small numbers on the books.

That aspect helps explain the principal act of Choby's tenure: the Nashville church's recent acquisition of the compound of the onetime Two Rivers Evangelical mega-church as the diocesan pastoral center, anchored by the move-in of the Chancery and the dedication of its 3,500-seat sanctuary as Sagrado Corazon (Sacred Heart) the city's parish-hub for its booming Latino flock, with further space on the property to accommodate the anticipated future growth.

Along the way, despite his own rough health, the bishop trekked to San Antonio at the last minute in late 2014 to ordain one of his seminarians, William Carmona, to the priesthood on his deathbed (above) in the face of terminal cancer. A Colombia-born late vocation in studies at Assumption Seminary, Fr William passed two days later at age 50.

All that said, even for the reporting to be had in the moment, this scribe's first concern remains for a beloved brother and friend, and likewise for all the wonderful folks who've given their bishop such selfless care and support, thus making possible his wish to keep on, even for the considerable burden it's placed on him through these years.

In that light, again, please keep our "Teddy Bear" and all the Nashville crew in your prayers over these days ahead... and at this point, a special word is owed to Deacon Jim McKenzie, whose dual experience in nursing and ministry, and moving dedication of both to his pastor-boss at home and on the road, has been a priceless blessing all around.

With a difficult hint at a farewell in its close, here's Choby's letter announcing the handover of governance, dated Saturday, 25 February:
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I write to share with you my current health condition and its impact on the governance of the diocese.

As many of you know, over the past four years I have sustained two falls. The first resulted in a broken arm from which I was able to recover while continuing my ministry and duties as your bishop. This second and most recent fall has caused damage to my spinal column including fractures of the vertebrae which are the supporting structures of the spinal cord. During the course of treatment, I developed an infection in the bloodstream. This complication has been the cause of my stay in the intensive care unit. The antibiotics have done their job in stabilizing my vital signs but recent tests have shown that bacteria has begun to grow in my heart. The next steps of my care are still being evaluated, and I continue to need your prayers and support.

My current health condition prevents me from fulfilling all of my pastoral functions within the diocese. Church law addresses and makes provision for such circumstances. There has been more than a handful of occasions where this has happened in other dioceses around the country. In fact, every bishop is required to designate in advance, the priest he wishes to exercise diocesan governance, should the need to invoke this provision arise.

By virtue of my incapacity, the Diocese of Nashville is impeded. I remain your bishop, but the governance of the diocese during this period of impediment is to be assumed by one of my vicars general, Very Reverend David R. Perkin, effective, February 25, 2017. He has graciously accepted this responsibility and I am sincerely grateful to him for his kind and generous willingness to serve. I am confident he will provide able leadership for the wellbeing of our diocese. In this position, as described in Church law, he is bound by the obligations and possesses the authority which belong to a diocesan administrator. I am comforted in knowing you will support him in this new role.

I express my thanks to all the people who have sent their prayers and words of support during this hospitalization. I want all of you to know it has been the happiest and most rewarding years of my life serving you, the Church, and almighty God as your bishop. You remain in my prayers and thoughts.

Wishing you every blessing, I am

Sincerely in Christ,

Most Reverend David R. Choby
Bishop of Nashville

Friday, February 03, 2017

On The Island, A Shake-Up Continues

Amid a wider scene dominated by no shortage of noise and flash whether inside or beyond Churchworld, what's happening on an apparently quieter plane is arguably well more significant.

Look at it this way: on November 1st – nearly four years into this pontificate – just one of Pope Francis' appointees had taken his place among the heads of the US' ten largest dioceses....

Now, that figure stands at four. (And if you're surprised, you're not paying attention.)

Put another way, though, as an unusual flurry of major moves in the American hierarchy wraps up, with the recent handovers on Long Island, in Newark, Arlington, St Petersburg (read: Tampa), Salt Lake and Dallas all decided within some ten weeks, the combined result is no less striking: new leadership for almost a tenth of the nation's 70 million faithful. What's more, meanwhile, with the lead trio among the bunch comprising either the "shoulders" of the nation's largest media market – or, in Big D's case, the church's anchor in what's become the country's fourth-largest metro area – even the numbers don't fully explain the impact...

...and, to be sure, that was true even before a cardinal was parachuted onto the "other" bank of the Hudson.

Tempting as it is to muse at length on the shape of things elsewhere, suffice it to say this: in a moment when hype is too often confused for "news" – by producers and consumers alike – the key lies in knowing the difference. And with that, let's pick up the latest installment of the shift at hand.

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Despite one of the most illustrious academic resumes among the US bishops – Princeton undergrad, an MBA from NYU, and advanced Roman degrees in both theology and the canons – over seven and a half years in Upstate Pennsylvania's land of "iron and coal, and chromium steel," Bishop John Barres resisted the role of an ecclesial "public intellectual," choosing instead to keep his head down and do the work of a pastor.

Along the way, however, the 57 year-old has nonetheless amassed a quiet yet formidable following among much of the Stateside bench. So when Pete Carril's onetime JV point-guard took the reins of Long Island's 1.6 million-member diocese based at Rockville Centre on Tuesday, a picturesque snowfall framing the scene, the prodigal New Yorker marked his return with a splash – an extraordinary turnout of over 60 prelates: that is, almost double the crew an event of the kind would normally see.

The son of Protestant ministers who would become leaders among Manhattan's 1960s convert scene, from boyhood Barres had an almost unique immersion in the modern history of Catholic evangelism in the United States: Frank Sheed guided the future bishop's parents into the faith, Fulton Sheen would baptize him, Avery Dulles was another longtime family friend who'd attend his first Mass.

But even if those are the well-known figures, the most pivotal player in the making of the Island's Fifth Bishop might just be a less-prominent, even more beloved character: Mickey Saltarelli, the lifer in the North Jersey trenches who, as bishop of Wilmington, "coached" his young Chancellor for a future in the top rank and hung on to see its start, dying of cancer two months after he served as Barres' co-consecrator in Allentown. (As for the meaning of said tutelage, the most emblematic "Mickey moment" remains the time when, on welcoming John Paul II at the door of Newark Cathedral as its rector, all anyone could notice was the black thick of a tab shirt popping out of his bishop's choir dress.... Long story short: if he ain't a saint, nobody else stands a shot.)

Reflecting the richness of his background and the moment, Barres' opening preach to the Island's mega-church proved an according tour de force – probably the first of its kind to draw from one of the Great American Novels... definitely the first in a good while to cite Pius XII... and – with the ever-dreaded challenge of overhauling the parish structure looming in his new charge's future – a very stirring, yet clear-eyed kicker, "asking the Holy Spirit for new and creative approaches... to pastoral and strategic planning that are both Spirit-driven and data-driven, and that break through a tired and broken, 'us vs. them,' self-referential mentality."

As there's well more where that came from – with thanks to the diocese's own Telecare – here's the fullvid:

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With this month's dual New York leg of the tour now put to bed, the focus to come happily shifts southward to the Metroplex, now overflowing with "human sunshine" after Bishop Ed Burns' arrival yesterday to prep for his installation as Dallas' eighth shepherd next Thursday.

Given the Pittsburgh native's own dedicated fan-base among the bench – and, conveniently, the confluence of the National Catholic Bioethics Center's annual bishops' seminar in town through the week – as with Rockville Centre, a very healthy contingent is slated to be on hand. Even so, amid a local church grown nearly seven times in size since 1990, the top line on the move remains the staggering shift of scale facing the Pope's pick: for every member of the flock he leaves behind in Juneau (the nation's smallest Latin-church diocese), no less than 130 of 'em await in Cowboys Country.

For a good while now, "Everything's bigger in Texas" has been a good slogan for Stateside Catholicism at large... and, well, few stats better sum up the "why" behind it than that.

As ever, more to come.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

On March Eve, The Church Seeks "Sanctuary"... From Trump

One week ago tonight – cigars all around, surrounded by his Roman students, and on the eve of what would inevitably be the most-watched moment of his life (leading the Scripture readings at the Inauguration of an American President) – it should be no surprise that the Cardinal-Archbishop of New York was even more fired up than usual...

...yet even as he carried the Church's patriotic part onto the Capitol's West Front, to know Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan is to know how the "other shoe" still had yet to drop.

While the reigning occupant of 452 Madison ripped the leading Republican contender for the Presidency with the loaded charge of "nativism" during the primaries in light of Donald Trump's draconian stance on immigration, the eventual GOP nominee from just up Fifth Avenue responded in kind by defacing Gotham's long-sacred comity of the Al Smith Dinner as the Tenth Archbishop of the "Capital of the World" presided from the center of the Waldorf dais and a global audience looked on....

And, among other bits, that backstory brings us to tonight.

In his role as the US bishops' chair for pro-life activities – given the portfolio's significance, the bench's lone post always held by a cardinal – and all of 24 hours since the body's current scarlet-clad chief raised an oddly muted "alarm" from his Texas base over the 45th President's first Executive Orders on immigration (thus fulfilling the campaign's signal pledges), in leading the masses of the faithful toward tomorrow's March for Life in the capital, Dolan himself took up the wider pro-family, pro-Francis call with vigor... yet the packed crowd's customary rounds of applause to begin the rally somehow turned to crickets.

Arguably a reflection on the wider hierarchy's guarded stance toward the new administration – even for the firm pledges (and, indeed, first actions) from Trump & Co. on the ever-critical abortion front – this time around, the traditional flood of bishops on hand to kick off this year's nightlong Vigil in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception ended up looking like more of a trickle.

And for the cardinal-chair to use a certain charged term on another life issue as the springboard for his marquee preach in the nation's largest church, well, do the math....


Friday, January 20, 2017

As the 45th President of these United States takes office at Noon today, we return again to the prayer first delivered in 1791 by the nation's founding shepherd, John Carroll of Baltimore.

Oft-misdubbed as a "Prayer for the Nation" or "for Government," per Carroll's original notes, the following text was intended to seek God's protection upon "all ranks of society and the Welfare of the Republic"....
We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.

We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope Francis, the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, N., all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation.

We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

We pray for his[/her] excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.

We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance.

To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

In Birdland, The Tradition Continues

BALTIMORE – This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.

In a tradition dating to 1800 – when Leonard Neale, the second archbishop of this Premier See, was consecrated by John Carroll alone – today brings the latest chapter with the ordination of two new auxiliaries: Bishops Adam Parker, 45, and Mark Brennan, 68.

The dual appointments awaited for over two years, each of the Pope's picks brings a new element to the life of this storied local church: until now the pastor of one of suburban Washington's largest and most diverse parishes, Brennan crosses the "Hindenburg line" as the first prelate to be named for a newly emergent Hispanic community here... while Parker – the beloved native son and vicar-general of the 600,000-member archdiocese – augurs a new generation for the American hierarchy: the nation's first Latin-church bishop born in the 1970s.

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The liturgy now concluded, a limited on-demand feed is available (starting with the Nuncio's remarks); uploading the full video is in the works.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

...and here, live from Orange's Crystal For a Day, the opening of the 2017 Hat Cycle with this afternoon's ordination of Bishop-elect Tim Freyer:


In The OC, "Angels" and Bishops

Even if it isn't time for baseball just yet, a pleasant Tuesday to you, wherever you may be.

While this New Year's most consequential installation has already taken place, Stateside Catholicism's 2017 Hat Cycle kicks into gear today in the church's Western anchor of Southern California, as Bishop-elect Tim Freyer is ordained the lone auxiliary of the 1.3 million-member Orange diocese.

A veteran pastor who's served until now as the local clergy chief, the 53 year-old Pope's pick has garnered frequent comparisons to his hyper-relational, nearly omnipresent boss, thus inspiring another new title: the "Mini-Vann." Having led a majority-Hispanic parish of some 7,000 families (read: 25,000 people) for nearly a decade before being called to the diocesan post – and what tends to be every local church's most difficult job, at that – it's much in keeping with Francis' desired identikit for his appointees that Freyer's nonetheless kept his pre-Chancery commitments as a police chaplain and in hospital ministry, holding down the Sunday night shift on the latter so the priests in the trenches can catch a break after the weekend.

On another front, meanwhile – in possibly the most SoCal thing this beat has yet seen in a new bishop – Freyer is ostensibly the first cleric to come to the bench with a work-history in fast food; through high school and into his seminary days, the ordinand held a job at an outpost of the region's famous hot dog mecca... so even for the copious incense of this day, where it counts, the "whiff of the Wienerschnitzel" won't be far from the scene.

With the vaunted centerpiece of the Crystal complex (above) now targeted for an early 2019 opening, today's rites at 2pm Pacific (5 ET) will take place at the nearby St Columban's in Garden Grove.

Featuring a bit of a surprise, here's your live/on-demand stream – worship aid likewise to come.

From Trout Country, the trail continues on Thursday to the Premier See of these States, with Mother Baltimore's first dual ordination since 1984, and yet another remarkable moment all around.

For it and all the rest, as always, stay tuned.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

"Habemus Mamam" – Amid US Immigrants' Fears, Francis Sends A "Message of 'Pope'"

As papers across the country lead with local takes on this Sunday before a Presidential Inauguration unlike any these United States have seen – at least since the Jacksonian Age – in the context of the nation's largest religious body, it's hardly an accident that the Man in White has seen fit to send a word.

Per longstanding custom, these post-Epiphany days have marked the Stateside Church's annual National Migration Week... yet never before has the moment been anchored by a personal message from the Pope – and one intended specifically for the nation's newcomers, at that.

Given the sizable fear among US Catholicism's formidable immigrant presence ahead of Friday's swearing-in of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President amid draconian promises on the charged issue, the national week's close in the fold's premier migrant hub brought an extraordinary moment as Francis himself sent a "message of hope": one pointedly rooted in the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe from her 1531 apparitions to St Juan Diego – the critical point of the faith's journey to the Americas, which served to spur the largest mass conversion in the history of Christendom.

Recorded as part of an interview Papa Bergoglio granted the SoCal-based El Sembrador (The Sower) apostolate – the full exchange to be released later this month – the Pope's prod was delivered at an early-morning Mass celebrated by LA's Archbishop José Gomez, whose November ascent as Vice-President of the US bishops was arguably secured by his own loaded message at a hastily-called liturgy in the election's wake in his cathedral, thus affirming on the broad scale a rapid, firm doubling-down on the church's prime fault-line with the incoming administration.

Against said backdrop, here's film of the scene in LA's Dolores Mission as Francis' message was shown, followed by its translation in English, y entonces el texto en español...

Do not forget that we have a mother. When Juanito, now St. Juan Diego, would try to run away from the Virgin, our mother, because she would complicate things for him…she said to him: “My son, Juanito, do not be afraid. Am I not here, I, who am your Mother?”

We are a community that also has a mother and Jesus gave her to us – his mother and our mother – and a community with a mother should feel safe.

Russian monks from the medieval period or before had a lovely saying...back then they would say: “when there is spiritual turbulence, take refuge under the mantle of the Holy Mother of God.” And this is what I want to tell you, she said it to Juan Diego in his language: “Do not be afraid. Am I not here, I, who am your Mother?”

Sometimes I think….that the best thing we could do for many Christians is to sell them mothballs…so they can put them on their clothes and go about their lives so they do not become moth-eaten. Because if you are closed off you will become moth-eaten. You must go out. You must go out. You must share the message of Jesus. It is not enough to talk about the message of Jesus – you must give the message of Jesus – as I receive it from Him through a brother or sister, who gives me grace and then I give it. This is what all Christians must do. I must not keep the message of Jesus to myself.

It is not to keep, it is to give. So each time the message passes through my hands, I am delivering it and by doing this I will rise from the cave.

Of course, the parishes should go to the streets, any organization should be on the streets. By go to the streets, I mean go out and look for open doors. My heart is on the streets, that is, my Christian heart is open to a message, to those who suffer and to those who are going through bad times and to those who are ill. It means the works of mercy, which are the spine of the gospel. If we read the questions that Jesus will ask when he judges us – they are the works of mercy. Matthew 25. I was hungry and you gave me food.

Go forward with courage, prayer and much tenderness – much tenderness.

May Almighty God bless you + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

[En español] No se olviden que tenemos una madre. Cuando Juanito el hoy San Juan Diego le escapaba un poco a la Virgen, a la Madre, porque... esta señora me pone complicaciones... ella le dijo: ''niño Juanito, no tengas miedo, acaso no estoy yo aquí que soy tu madre?''

Nosotros somos un pueblo que también tiene una madre, y Jesús nos las dejó, su madre y nuestra madre, y un pueblo con madre tiene que sentirse seguro.

Los monjes rusos de la época medieval o antes, tienen un consejo muy lindo...antes...decían ''cuando hay turbulencias espirituales, acogerse bajo el manto de la Santa Madre de Dios"; y eso es lo que puedo y quiero decirles, ella se lo dijo a Juanito en su lengua, no tengas miedo...acaso no estoy yo aquí que soy tu Madre? y ese es como el saludo que les quiero dar.

A veces creo que... el mejor negocio que podemos hacer con muchos cristianos, es venderles naftalina... para que se la pongan en la ropa y en su vida y no se apolillen, porque están encerrados y se van a apolillar, tienen que salir, tienen que salir, tienen que ir a llevar el mensaje de Jesús; el mensaje de Jesús no es para conservarlo para mí, el mensaje de Jesús es para darlo; así como yo lo recibo de Él a través de un hermano o de una hermana me viene esa gracia, yo la doy; eso es lo que tienen que hacer todos los cristianos, yo no me puedo guardar en conserva el mensaje de Jesús.

No es para guardarlo, es para darlo entonces, cada uno vez que ese mensaje pasa por mis manos lo voy entregando y de esa manera salgo de la cueva.

Por supuesto o sea las parroquias a la calle,
cualquier institución a la calle,
a la calle en el sentido de salir a buscar ehh puertas abiertas
mi corazón ala calle, es decir
mi corazón cristiano abierto a un mensaje
al que sufre, al que esta pasando un mal momento, al enfermo
es decir las obras de misericordia
que son como la columna vertebral del evangelio
si nosotros leemos las preguntas que nos va a hacer Jesús cuando nos juzgue
son las obras de misericordia, de Mateo 25 –
[que] tuve hambre me diste de comer.

Adelante con encoraje, oración, y mucha blandura – mucha blandura.

La bendición de Dios + Padre, Hijo y Espíritu Santo. 
*   *   *
While recent weeks have seen a host of related interventions from key US prelates – from the op-ed plug of the national CLINIC network by its chair, Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange, to New Orleans' Archbishop Gregory Aymond's local reminder of the inviolability of the family, and an extraordinary turn in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano from the issue's elder statesman, LA's retired Cardinal Roger Mahony – in light of Gomez's unique triple role as an immigrant himself, head of the largest local church American Catholicism has ever known, and now the bench's first Chief-in-Waiting to hail from Southern California (home to some one in seven members of the entire national fold), Don José's Thursday preface to Francis' message nonetheless serves as the top line to chart the path ahead....
My dear brothers and sisters,

It is a joy to be with you this morning and to be with your families to celebrate National Migration Week.

The Catholic Bishops of the United States celebrate this week every year to remind us — that we are not alone, that we are all in this together.

The Church is a “family of families” — a people called together from every part of the world. All of us coming together to share our faith, our traditions, our values and our gifts. So we celebrate today with the Bishops and with our Catholic brothers and sisters everywhere across this country.

I know that these times are a challenge for many of us. God’s family always goes through times of testing. That is the point of that first reading we heard this morning.

The children of Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years! God was walking with them, he was leading his people. But it was never easy. In fact, some days it was really hard for them.

It is the same today. We are a nation of immigrants, that’s true! But immigration to this country has never been easy. We come to this beautiful country — many at great personal sacrifice. And we all come with dreams of building a better life.

But immigrants have always faced resentment and backlash. Think about the Irish, the Italians, the Polish, the Japanese. It is no different with the today’s immigrants.

I know it gets frustrating, sometimes we get afraid — because we don’t know the future, we don’t know what’s going to happen.

But when times get hard, we have to be careful not to let our hearts get hard, too. That’s the message that we hear today in the Word of God. “Harden not your hearts!” Never give in to the temptation to anger, to be bitter.

My brothers and sisters, Always trust God! Always! Never, never give up on him! Because he is never, never going to give up on you. God goes with us. Jesus goes with us! The Holy Family goes with us!

We remember the Posada, right? Mary and Joseph were looking for a place to stay — and nobody would take them in, nobody welcomed them. But God was with them, and Mary and Joseph were strong and trusted him — and they brought the Child Jesus into this world.

There is a beautiful line in that first reading this morning: “Encourage yourselves daily while it is still ‘today.’” We need to have solidarity in our communities.

We need to stand together, in the Church, with the Church. We are one family of God! And when one of us is hurting, the rest of us need to offer a helping hand. To show love, compassion and healing.

In our Gospel passage today, Our Lord is moved with pity by the leper who comes to him. He stretches out his hand, he touches the leper and Our Lord speaks to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.”

We are like that leper. We are outcast, we are on the margins. And yet this is how much Jesus loves us, this is how much our Blessed Mother loves us, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

If you notice, Jesus always makes contact with people, he always looks on them with love and he wants to touch them and speak personally to them. We need to have that same kind of tenderness and care for one another.

My brothers and sisters, in this Mass we are going to hear a message from Pope Francis himself — a message of hope that Our Holy Father is sending because he wants us to hear it. So this is really a special day.

So keep encouraging yourselves and let us keep the faith strong in our families. Let us be a good example for our country. Let us reach out to the people in our communities.

Let us open our arms to welcome every one, let us find room for everyone. Let us keep praying and working for immigration reform in our country!

Never forget, my brothers and sisters: Jesus loves you, and our Blessed Mother loves you — and the whole Church loves you!

¡Que Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!
¡Que viva San Juan Diego!

¡Que viva San Junípero Serra!
¡Que viva Cristo Rey!