- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

The two new Spanish-speaking bishops for the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington are walking stories of immigration and the U.S. church.
As natives of Spain and Ireland, Bishops-elect Francisco Gonzales, 61, and Kevin J. Farrell, 53, know the wayfarer experience and the importance of helping immigrant Catholics adjust to America.
"The church in America was built by immigrants, and at the moment, the largest influx is Hispanic. We have to take care of them," Monsignor Farrell said.
Monsignor Farrell and Father Gonzales will be ordained Monday at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in a 2 p.m. ceremony. Six cardinals and 43 bishops will attend the ordination rite.
Though Washington holds no comparison to California or Texas as hubs of Hispanic Catholicism, three of its four bishops, including Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, now will be fluent in the language.
"A language is much more than words. It's the way into a culture," said Monsignor Farrell, who began his Hispanic journey doing mission work in Monterey, Mexico, in the 1960s.
Father Gonzales, who attended seminary in Barcelona, came to the United States in the 1960s to study at Catholic University of America. His Northwest parish, Our Lady Queen of the Americas, serves families with ties across Latin America.
"People come to America with a desire for freedom and to improve themselves," Father Gonzales said. "When immigrants come, even in the church, they are usually given the last place."
The 2000 Census found that 35.3 million Americans, or 12.5 percent of the population, are Hispanic. They make up nearly 8 percent of D.C. residents.
Beginning in the early 1980s, Hispanic numbers in the church have skyrocketed, transforming American Catholicism, whose foundation was built by immigrants from England, Ireland, Italy, Germany and Poland. Turmoil in Central America and a new U.S. amnesty law produced thousands of Spanish-speaking clients for archdiocesan services.
"With amnesty, people came out of hiding," said Monsignor Farrell, who in 1986 was director of the Spanish Catholic Center in Mount Pleasant. "This was a challenge for our parishes. Many times, I felt caught between cultures."
During his first full year at the center, the number of cases jumped from 8,000 to 30,000. Back then, the archdiocese offered 15 Spanish-language Masses in 17 locations. Now, it holds 46 such services in 28 places. Nearly one-third of the 550,000-member archdiocese are Hispanic.
The transition from immigrant to resident is never easy, especially for the older and uneducated who can't learn English, Monsignor Farrell said. But the struggle bears fruit year after year.
"A man came up the other day and said, 'Remember me?'" he said. "He came through the center, from the street. Now he has two children in college."
The monsignor said that Hispanics who make it up the ladder "do not turn their backs" on the next arrivals. Washington does not yet boast any wealthy Hispanic enclaves.
Appointed as bishops by Pope John Paul II in December, the two Washington priests will continue most of their same duties in the archdiocese. Monsignor Farrell is vicar general, or chief executive, of the archdiocese. In the cardinal's absence, he makes the decisions.
Each week, the visage of Father Gonzales with his column, usually a religious reflection, appears on page two of El Pregnonero, the archdiocesan Spanish-language newspaper. Next time, he will speak as the nation's 26th Hispanic bishop.
The weekly, now at 28,000 circulation, began as a handbill in 1977 and later was handed out on the street by Spanish Catholic Center workers.
Since 1992, Father Gonzales has led the Hispanic Family Life Office. For longer still, he has been spiritual adviser to the activities of a movement called Cursillo, a "little course" in Christian living for lay people.
Though being a bishop "was not on his calendar," the appointment earned plenty of thumbs-up in the archdiocese.
"A lot of people say, 'I told you so,'" said the bishop-elect, a member of the Sons of the Holy Family order. "I have never said 'no' to what my superiors have asked of me."
Although the archdiocese conducts Masses in 22 languages each week, it is mindful of growing Hispanic influence in American Catholicism. The first church office for Spanish-speaking members opened in 1945 in San Antonio. In 1969, it moved to Washington and was upgraded to a "secretariat" of the U.S. bishops five years later.
In 1999, U.S. bishops conducted a major study of the Hispanic presence and the next year organized a national gathering, Encuentro 2000, at the Los Angeles Convention Center. It was described by organizers as a time to "learn from each other, to forgive one another and be reconciled, to acknowledge our unique histories." The event produced a "parish guide" for local churches wanting to transplant the experience.
The 1999 bishops' report said 71 percent of all U.S. Catholic growth since 1960 came from Hispanics, 30 percent to 38 percent of the American church.
Critics of illegal aliens, meanwhile, say the church is contributing to immigration problems.
"At times, it seems that the church hierarchy makes an overbearing moral demand that we abolish all borders," said Dan Stein of Federation for American Immigration Reform. "The church needs to understand that any society has a right to borders and limitations. The Vatican is a city-state. It has its own immigration policy."
Monsignor Farrell knows the refrain well, but argues that obstacles to immigration undercut a "regeneration" of America. "To close the borders is to kill ourselves," he said.
After September 11, he said, there was a no more patriotic group "American flags everywhere" than the large Hispanic enclave around Langley Park.
Hispanic churchgoers also present Spanish radio programs on WACA 1540-AM. The Spanish Catholic Center, now with four locations, serves 38,000 people a year and has opened a medical clinic in Gaithersburg.
In the archdiocese, the number of Hispanic volunteer religion teachers has tripled to 600 from the mid-1980s; seminaries offer Spanish-immersion courses; and church schools have just hired their first bilingual teachers.
Nationally, a tug of war rages over Catholic-born Hispanics recruited by evangelical Protestants. The bishops' report showed, for example, that in 1994 the "high" estimate of U.S. Hispanics who are Catholic was 77 percent. That dropped to 71 percent in 1998.
Father Gonzales is also chaplain to charismatic Hispanic prayer groups, who in style most parallel evangelical exuberance, as they are visiting homes and sharing the faith. It seems to be working.
"Maybe it's an indication," he said, "that we are doing the right thing."

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