A note on Our Lady of Visitation

Bishop Jorge Rodriguez

When one arrives in Colorado, one soon encounters a large immigrant community originating from Latin America. But there is also another Latino community here, but it’s one that speaks primarily English, even though most speak Spanish, or at least understand it, using a very particular vocabulary. This community shares various traditions and ways of life typical of the Hispanic world. They cook tamales and green chili, make “bizcochitos,” remember the processions of the “penitentes,” and have a strong sense of family. Many have surnames of Spanish or Portuguese origin: Maestas, Vigil, Archuleta, Gallegos, Olguín, Martinez, Valdez, among others. They are Latinos or Hispanics who trace their roots back generations—some to even before the arrival of the Mayflower—in the towns and cities of New Mexico and other southern territories.

On April 27, I had the opportunity to get to know a representation of this community. They are a formidable and enjoyable group of people. They honor their roots, have a great love for their traditions and customs, and have a healthy pride of being Latino, while also being deeply American. I am referring to the members of Our Lady of Visitation Mission Church.

The reason for the meeting was important, and at the same time difficult. The archdiocese decided to cease offering Sunday Mass at the mission. I saw with my own eyes the sorrow in the community. The decision, however difficult, was one that considered the spiritual good of the community, while also bearing in mind the needs of the entire archdiocese.

Our Lady of Visitation Mission has had a regular attendance of about 100 people each Sunday for the past 10 years. The majority of those who attend Mass at the mission do not live in the area; coming from many corners of the archdiocese, the community gathers at the mission because it is there that they reconnect with their roots, with their history and family. But obviously, attending Mass on Sunday is not enough to experience a full parish life with the wide range of ministries a parish offers, including ongoing religious education, opportunities for spiritual growth, and a complete liturgical schedule.

A few streets away is the Parish of Holy Trinity, to which this mission belongs. The community was invited to participate more fully in the parish, where they could receive all the services a parish can offer, and to take advantage of opportunities to grow in their faith. It is not news that we no longer have the number of priests we did in the past, nor is it news that that the demographics of our state have changed and that there is a need to open new parishes and make a more efficient use of the resources we have.

In making this decision, a study and evaluation of the archdiocese that had taken place a few years ago was taken into account; the decision was studied by the parish council of Holy Trinity and approved by the parish priest; it was then confirmed by the presbyteral council, the archdiocesan pastoral council was informed, and it was ratified by the archbishop.

The Vicar for Clergy met with some representatives of the community of Our Lady of Visitation on two occasions, and I met once with some members, albeit more informally. Representatives of the archdiocese decided to cancel their attendance at a larger meeting in late March because, one day prior, the archdiocese received a letter from a lawyer representing some members of that community indicating the possibility of a lawsuit against the archdiocese. Once the discussion involves lawyers, the tone and circumstances of the dialogue changes to another level.

Because of the circulation of some incomplete or false information in the media, of pamphlets left in the parishes, and other means, I would like to clarify some points of what has been said about this decision taken by the archdiocese.

In making this decision, the goal was never to seize the savings of the mission, nor was it to sell the property. In fact, the idea was to leave it as a meeting place, to be used for special occasions or celebrations, for the annual bazaar, and other similar events.

Out of respect for the history of the mission, the archdiocese suggested offering Mass one Sunday a month at the mission, which would give the community the opportunity to reconnect, celebrate its roots and pray together. The caveat was that on each of the other Sundays, each one would attend his or her own parish. This solution would have achieved the needs of both sides: giving the members of Our Lady of Visitation an opportunity to gather together regularly, while also offering them the possibility of living a more complete parish life. Unfortunately, this proposal was not accepted by the representatives of Our Lady of Visitation. For them it was all, or nothing—that is, they insisted on keeping things as they were. It is a shame because this proposal met the goals of both sides, and it would have been a good solution for everybody.

It has been suggested that this decision was made because the Church discriminates against Latinos, or that is does not value the Latino tradition. This cannot be honestly considered, particularly in these times when the archdiocese is making a great effort to serve the Spanish-speaking immigrant community. The Church loves and appreciates all the cultures that it is composed of: the mainstream English-speaking community, the Native American community, Vietnamese, Hispanic, African American and African, Korean, Mongolian, Polish, Lebanese, etc. The Church also values this community of Hispanic origin, which is native to what is now the United States, and which has been so important in the history of the Catholic Church in Colorado.

The proposal suggested by some members of Our Lady of Visitation to bring in retired priests to celebrate Mass every Sunday is not a viable solution, because this arrangement does not allow for the stable connection of the community with their parish priest, which is a necessary component for a parish community. The substitute priest arrives, celebrates the Mass and leaves. He does not belong to that community.

As you can see, the topic is very complex. Some people from the community of Our Lady of Visitation have organized events to pressure public opinion, such as press conferences, protests, and petitions. Personally, I think that fostering division is never good, but I can understand the pain that those brothers and sisters of ours are going through. I even admire the love and pride they have for all the sacrifices their grandparents and fathers made when building that small community of Our Lady of Visitation.

I invite you to pray to the Lord with the same words of Jesus when he prayed for his Church: “That they may be one, as we are one. I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me” (Jn 17: 22-23).

And pray that he free us from situations such as St. Paul describes: “I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor 1: 10-13)

Although Sunday Mass will no longer be said regularly at the Mission of Our Lady of Visitation, I would be delighted if the community could find a way to continue celebrating its Latino tradition, history and family. And I would love to be part of it, because—as I said at the beginning—it is a great community that within five minutes made me feel like family.

COMING UP: Helping others: the ride of your life

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Near the beginning of a 464-mile bike tour, my right knee gave out. I pulled over to a Ride the Rockies aid station in a tiny town in Colorado and lay down in the grass, in pain, my knee swollen. I felt alone and helpless. When I received help, my sense of relief and security was overwhelming. When you can’t help yourself, it’s a cold and lonely feeling. It really takes your breath away.

Now, imagine the helplessness of someone experiencing homelessness: foraging for food in trash bins, hunkered down under a bridge or not sleeping for fear of harm. It’s not something you would ever want to experience. But thousands of our brothers and sisters across the country do experience homelessness. One-fifth of them are children.

There is good news. The estimated number of homeless people has trended down in the past decade. The sad news, in Colorado, is that we’re counter to the trend. Between 2015 and 2016, when overall homelessness (including people in families) dropped 2.6 percent nationally, Colorado experienced the single-largest percentage increase of homeless individuals (12.6 percent) of any state, according to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The causes are many and varied. What’s important is what we do about it. At the Samaritan House homeless shelter in downtown Denver, of those individuals and families who complete the first 30 days of the Levels Program that includes life skills, more than 60 percent leave the shelter with housing in place. More than 90 percent have income in place.

This year, we will open the Samaritan House Women’s Shelter in northeast Denver to accommodate 150 women a night. We’re also moving our administrative offices to that location to be in closer community with those we serve. With your help, Catholic Charities is providing hope in the face of helplessness.

That’s also why, for the seventh consecutive year, Team Samaritan House is part of Ride the Rockies. I was on the ride in 2015 when my knee gave out. This year, I’ll be part of the support team as 40 members of Team Samaritan House pedal a 447-mile loop from Alamosa to Salida from June 10 to June 17. Why do they ride? For the love of the homeless and to raise $150,000 to support the shelters of Catholic Charities. Those riders are spending many hours in the saddle. I encourage you to support one or more of them at samhousedenver.org/rtr.

And after you do that, make plans to come down to Samaritan House and help serve dinner to the poor. You’ll be much richer for it. On a training run, one of our riders met a group of three men from Australia, riding their bikes. Just because they wanted to be a part of it, the men ended up helping Team Samaritan House serve a special pig roast dinner to residents of the shelter.

I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith,” proclaims St. Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7.

Join us. Let’s race together to serve others.

 

Larry Smith is the president and CEO of Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Denver. Visit online at ccdenver.org or call 303-742-0828 to learn more, volunteer or make a donation.