Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez of El Salvador served as principal celebrant and homilist of a well-attended Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Sept. 19 marking the bicentennial of five Central American nations.
On Sept. 15, 1821, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua declared their independence from Spain.
“We are a people who never tire of continuing to struggle,” said Cardinal Rosa Chávez in his welcoming remarks during the afternoon Spanish Mass. These are the struggles of each nation, he added, “for a country that we want, for a country that we need...We are here as Central Americans to celebrate this Eucharist of thanksgiving and of commitment.”
New York Auxiliary Bishop Edmund Whalen was among the concelebrants, representing Cardinal Dolan.
Later in his homily, the Salvadoran cardinal said, “We are a family of small countries, with large dreams. And we are here in this country of immigrants...Yesterday I visited Ground Zero where I prayed (for those) who died tragically on Sept. 11 of 2001. We are close to the United Nations, and (they’re having) their General Assembly. Pope Paul VI spoke there at the UN in 1965, and as an expert in humanity, he said, ‘Never again, war; never again.’”
In reference to the five bicentennial countries, the homily focused on maintaining faith and hope for the future despite past and present social and political turmoil. (In Nicaragua, the government crackdown on dissidents continues, unrest that started in April 2018 when demonstrators began protests against diminishing social benefits.)
Cardinal Rosa Chávez also cited words of peace, hope and brotherhood from Christ, Pope Francis and St. John Paul II, as well as the unifying words of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. “We should live with passion in the present, feel that we are part of that history, and feel that we are protagonists of that history,” he said in alluding to Central American civil wars of the past and subsequent years of deadly unrest.
In quoting St. Oscar Romero of El Salvador, the cardinal said, “God wants to save us as a people. He doesn’t want an isolated salvation.” The cardinal also quoted Romero on the importance of a people together seeking “the common good.” (The cardinal, who is 79, was a friend and close collaborator of the slain Archbishop Romero).
“Our values, our culture, our faith and having hope for the future,” said Cardinal Rosa Chávez in discussing the significance of virtues and living with passion in the present. “God is love. The Lord is the God of hope, the God of the impossibles...a solidary God.”
Bishop Whalen, near the start of Mass, read a letter of welcome and support from Cardinal Dolan, which referred to the five countries as “a family of nations that reminds us of the power of family.” Referring to this being the Year of St. Joseph, the letter said, “It is my prayer that the nations of Central America continue to remember and maintain the example of St. Joseph. May God bless you.”
Near the end of the special liturgy, Juan Rene Icaza, a lead diplomat from Nicaragua, delivered closing remarks of gratitude, saying, “I want to express my very sincere thankfulness for this Mass...for this historic event.” He also spoke about hoping for a more stable and peaceful Central American region.
After Communion, a cantor named Marco Antonio Matute sang a passionate and extended rendition of the Ave Maria. An estimated 1,500 people attended, including New York-based officials from the consul-general offices of the five countries.
Wanda Vasquez, director of archdiocesan Hispanic Ministry, later told Catholic New York, “The faithful of Central America have been the heart of our Catholic faith here in New York for many years, and the Church is responding by casting a light of the Gospel on the day of the celebration of the 200 years of independence of Central America.”
Ms Vasquez added, “Its remembrance honors the Central American community for their contributions to the Church and we embrace their cultural traditions and welcome them home to the Catholic Church.”