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: The Vatican’s Choice: Jimmy Lai or Xi Jinping?

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In mid-May, Chinese leader Xi Jinping unveiled a plan to bypass Hong Kong’s legislature and impose draconian new “national security” laws on the former British colony. Putatively intended to defend Hong Kong from “secessionists,” “terrorists,” and “foreign influence,” these new measures are in fact designed to curb the brave men and women of Hong Kong’s vibrant pro-democracy movement, who have been aggravating the Beijing totalitarians for a long time. With the world distracted by the Wuhan virus (which the Chinese government’s clumsiness and prevarication did much to globalize), the ever-more-brutal Xi Jinping regime evidently thinks that this is the moment to crack down even harder on those in Hong Kong who cherish freedom and try to defend it.

This latest display of Beijing’s intent to enforce communist power in Hong Kong coincides with the most recent persecution of my friend, Jimmy Lai.

Jimmy and I have only met once. But I have long felt a kinship with this fellow-Catholic, a convert who first put his considerable wealth to work in support of important Catholic activities and who is now risking all in support of the pro-democracy movement in Kong Kong. Arrested in February, and then again in April, Jimmy Lai has been charged with helping organize and lead “unauthorized protests.” That he was in the front ranks of pro-democracy demonstrations is true. The question is, why do the Chinese communists regard peaceful protest in support of freedoms Beijing solemnly promised to protect as treasonous?

In late May, the thugs in Beijing tightened the ratchet of repression another notch: Jimmy Lai’s case was transferred to a court that could give the 72-year old a five-year sentence, or even consecutive sentences. But what else could be expected from a regime that was already trying to bankrupt Lai’s pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, by pressuring both Chinese and international firms to stop buying advertising space there? Shamefully, far too many have kowtowed to those pressures, and a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed article reported that Apple Daily is now cut off from 65% of the Hong Kong advertising market. Meanwhile, Beijing, while trying to reassure the business community that everything will be just fine, warns business leaders (as well as diplomats and journalists) not to “join the anti-China forces in stigmatizing or demonizing” the new national security laws.

The Xi Jinping regime may be less stable than it wants the world to think it is. Secure regimes do not increase repression, as Beijing has done for several years now. Moreover, labeling all criticism of the Xi Jinping government as “anti-China” is not the play a regime confident about its legitimacy and stability would make. Such tactics seem clumsy; they bespeak sweaty nervousness, not calm self-assurance.

The attempt to break the Hong Kong democracy movement is one facet of a broader campaign of repression that has not spared Chinese religious communities on the mainland. One million Muslim Uyghurs remain penned in Xinjiang concentration camps, where they are being “educated.” Protestant house churches are under constant threat. And repressive measures continue to be taken against Catholics and their churches, despite the almost two-year old (and still secret) agreement between the Holy See and Beijing. That agreement, which gave the Chinese communist party a lead role in the nomination of bishops, looks ever more like one in which the Vatican gave away a great deal in return for hollow promises; Chinese Catholics who do not toe the party line as the Chinese communist party defines that line are still persecuted. The effects of this sorry affair on the Church’s evangelical mission in the China of the future – hopefully, a post-communist China – will not be positive.

Around the world, voices have been raised in support of Hong Kong’s brave pro-democracy demonstrators. Has the Holy See’s voice been heard? If so, I missed it and so did many others. Are strong representations in favor of religious freedom and other basic human rights being made by Vatican officials behind the scenes in Beijing and Rome? One might hope so. But if the Holy See’s current China policy is in fact a reprise of its failed Ostpolitik in central and eastern Europe during the 1970s, those representations are more likely tepid and wholly ineffectual.

With one of its most courageous Catholic sons now in the dock and facing what could be life-threatening imprisonment, the Vatican now faces a defining choice: Jimmy Lai or Xi Jinping?