by Cullen Schippe
What a magnificent September Sunday it was! As I got off the bus in Cuernavaca, Mexico, I was struck by vibrant colors—the cobalt sky, the red-tiled roofs, the azaleas and bougainvillea and other flowers I couldn’t identify. As I joined the flow of foot traffic headed for the Cathedral of the Assumption, I couldn’t keep my eyes to myself because there was so much for them to drink in.
All this beauty and human energy was a bit of a set-up. In less than an hour I would have one of the most stirring liturgical experiences of my life—an experience so strong that I remember it with laser clarity over forty years later.
The cathedral itself was completed in about 1585 and was part of an ancient fortress-like monastery. The large church was filled to overflowing. We were greeted by the thrum of the guitarrón, by the soaring of violins, and by the blare of trumpets. Even before the entrance procession began, the sanctuary was filled with music. I looked around to see rich and poor, young and old, men and women crowded together and united by a single focus: a glorious Sunday Eucharist.
There was a hushed moment, and then the bishop, Sergio Mendez Arceo, and the ministers moved through the crowd to a joyous entrance song. The bishop was barefoot, carried a wooden crozier, and wore an Ordinary-Time green tilma (the peasant cloak not unlike the garment Juan Diego wore when meeting the Blessed Mother). By the time the whole assembly broke into the Gloria, I was smitten but good! By the end of the homily—rich in social justice themes and gospel values—I was overwhelmed!
When the liturgy was over, I felt like the disciples on Mount Tabor—I didn’t want to leave. I lingered in the ancient courtyard for a while. Then I walked through the open market on my way back to the bus station. During the ride back to Mexico City, I began to realize just how narrow my view of the Church really was.
The culture that informed the liturgy that day long ago is now part of the fabric of the Church in the United states. The language and culture of Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Nicaraguans, Guatemalans, and others are now in American Catholicism’s mainstream.
The period from September 15 to October 15 has been set aside to honor and celebrate Hispanic heritage. It is a very good time for all of us who share the catechetical ministry to learn more about how this heritage is forming and enriching our local churches. It is a very good time for all of us to realize that 54 percent of all millennial-age Catholics in this country are Hispanic. It is a very good time for all of us to notice that over 40 percent of all people in lay ministry formation here are Hispanics. It is a very good time for all of us to recognize that well over 5,000 parishes throughout the United States minister to the growing Spanish population and offer Spanish language celebrations—celebrations that take on the color and joy of the many differing Hispanic cultures. It is a very good time for all of us to understand how deeply the Catholic faith is embedded in the stirring diversity of Hispanic culture—art, music, and literature.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a web page telling why and how U.S. Catholics can celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Also many publishers are offering special resources to help us all understand the Latino Church. If you visit catechist.com, you will find a link to the USCCB page.
On the day that Pope Francis was elected, I travelled down a memory lane that led me to my September Sunday in Cuernavaca. I saw in Francis’s election a global recognition of the importance of the Latin American Church. I also saw in his elevation a challenge for those of us who minister to celebrate our unity in diversity. Together we can sing that angelic hymn: ¡Gloria a Dios in las alturas! Glory to God in the highest!
Cullen Schippe has been in Catholic publishing for well over 40 years and currently serves as President and Publisher for the Peter Li Education Group. Email Cullen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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