Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

College Park

Hispanic Bishops: Eucharist Is Universal Language

By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published July 3, 2008

The auxiliary bishop of Ayacucho, Peru, who heads the Peruvian bishops’ conference committee on youth and young adults, spoke to the Spanish-speaking people at the 2008 Eucharistic Congress.

Bishop Gabino Miranda Melgarejo spoke on the need to come to Mass prepared, in dress, in interior respect for God, and spiritually. His words were translated for The Georgia Bulletin as he spoke by Brenda Loyola, 25, a Hispanic youth ministry leader and a member of St. Joseph Church in Athens.

He began by saying that he was going to give a theology talk but in approachable language. While the Catholic Church tells its people to come to Mass once a week, he said the Eucharist is food and the need for Christ is so great that it is important to come more often and with the right attitude “of faith and love” knowing that “we can’t do anything without him. … We need him.”

While no one would go to a party or celebration without carefully picking out clothes, fixing their hair and looking in the mirror many times, this respect is not always shown in how people come to Mass, he said. They may dress too casually or too immodestly, he said.

But it is even more important to consider how one is prepared interiorly, Bishop Miranda continued. Going to confession regularly helps one to come to the Eucharist prepared because of encountering God’s love and compassion there. Reading prayers before Mass helps to dispose one properly.

“Prepare yourself, because if you don’t prepare yourself then you won’t be able to do what Jesus asks of us,” he said.

The Mass is a rich expression of the Christian faith with many layers of meaning to explore, he said. “The church over 20 centuries has been trying to help Christians to appreciate all the elements of the Mass.”

For example, each of the vestments that the priest puts on to celebrate Mass has significance and as he vests, the priest prays particular prayers, recalling that he is putting himself aside and putting on Christ. In a real sense Christ is the one who is the celebrant of the Mass and he is also the offering.

“Every single detail (of the Mass) has a special reason” for being done in that way, the bishop said. “Every single thing you see during Mass is a tradition.”

Everyone should try to focus their intellect and their spirit on what is happening, he said. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, people should be aware, active and participate with devotion at Mass.

He also encouraged his listeners, most of them immigrants, to adapt their spiritual traditions to the new place where they live.

“Sometimes we want everyone else to take our traditions, even if we are not in our country anymore,” he said. “If we are visitors in another country, we should try to adapt our traditions to their culture.”

When Mass is over, he said, it is important to continue to reflect on having received Jesus in the Eucharist, to pray and think in silence about having the holiness of God within. Then, he said, it is time to go and do the mission of God. He urged them to remember the people in their homelands and try to help the poor. It is good to help their families financially back home, he said. It is also good to share their faith with them.

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory visited the Hispanic track, introduced by Father Jose Duvan Gonzalez.

“Never forget that the heart of your bishop is with the Hispanic community,” Archbishop Gregory said.

Over 3,000 people were in the Spanish-language track, which also included talks by Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Flores of Detroit and Father Octavio Diaz Villagrana of Mexico.

Alicia Guerrero of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Atlanta comes to the Eucharistic Congress every year. The deepest reason is to experience the unity created by the Holy Spirit as so many different people are brought together at Mass.

“God’s Spirit is one,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where you are from, what language you speak. For me that is the amazing part. We can all share in one Mass.”

As part of her ministry she encouraged teenagers and young adults from the Hispanic community at IHM to come to the Congress.

“My teens are in Hall A. They are all excited about it,” she said.

In an interview following his talk, Bishop Flores said he spoke about what Pope Benedict XVI had said to the Hispanic community in his recent visit to the United States.

“The Holy Father was saying the Hispanic community in the United States has a mission to be sowers of the word and bearers of Christ,” Bishop Flores said.

Secondly the pope said Hispanics should “resist as a temptation in American culture” a tendency “to privatize religion.”

Hispanics have “ a long tradition of love for the word of God and a tradition of public faith,” Bishop Flores said.

Holding onto those good traditions “is the challenge we face in this culture.”

He spoke also of the description in the Book of Isaiah of “all nations” streaming to the mountain of the Lord and all nations seeking instruction from the Lord.

This beautiful passage doesn’t alter the fact that “in all families there is always that tension. It is not always easy to get along.”

This isn’t a failure, but a natural part of the human family and a call from the Lord to grow in charity, Bishop Flores said.

“The Lord knows that. He called the community together so we can learn to love one another. The church is a school of charity,” he said.

“The altar is the image of the mountain of the Lord,” he said, where all peoples gather to be taught by the Lord.

Born in Texas, Bishop Flores is the grandson of Mexican grandparents who also owned land in Texas. Spanish was often spoken in his home growing up. His father insisted on learning English well and Spanish well. Ordained for the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas, Bishop Flores served the church in Texas in many capacities, including as a seminary professor, before he was chosen to serve as a bishop in Detroit. He holds a doctorate in theology.

The challenge that is often spoken of about American Catholics of European descent and Hispanic Catholics from Latin America learning to become one family in Christ is an oversimplification, he said.

Within the Spanish-speaking community there are many Hispanic countries of origin, and people from one country may encounter Hispanics from other countries for the first time in the United States.

“We have to hear the call of the Lord to persevere,” he said. “The image the prophet gives us of all nations streaming to the altar of the Lord—that is where we go.”

Despite language barriers, there is a universal language of the Catholic faith that stirs the heart, he said. He has been deeply touched listening to Polish hymns to Our Lady of Czestochowa in parishes in Detroit without even understanding the words because they touch “a deep Catholic chord that speaks in any language.”

The Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor, drawing her inspiration from her rural Georgia culture, has been translated into Spanish and her works are very appreciated, he said.

“Her love for the Eucharist comes out so clearly in her letters. I have always been touched by that,” Bishop Flores said.

He said he was struck by the vitality and import of the Eucharistic Congress and looking at it in light of the possibility of planning such an event for the Detroit Archdiocese.

“I really have been deeply impressed by how well organized it is,” he said, a quality which he said is one of the strengths of American culture and of the Catholic Church in the United States.

But he was also struck by how the Eucharistic Congress included the very personal dimension of faith, which is a strength of the Latin American culture and church.

The Congress “does have that invitation to a personal encounter with Jesus,” Bishop Flores said.