By Jessica Marsala
A woman processed into the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore carrying a small poster that displayed her native Panama’s devotion to Mary.
Her white traditional pollera dress, adorned with orange pompoms, visually distinguished her from the rest of the congregation, but she spoke their language.
She was among the 300 who came together at the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Hispanic Heritage Mass Oct. 12, demonstrating that while they come from 21 countries, their Catholic faith unites them.
“The presence of the Hispanic community tonight was awesome, it was really great,” said Lizzette Vargas, the president of the Archdiocesan Hispanic Ministry council and a parishioner of St. Michael the Archangel in Overlea. “Even though we are from different countries, we (come) together once a year, just to be present and to celebrate.”
Vargas, herself originally from Puerto Rico, spent two months coordinating the liturgy, which featured a choir singing psalms and hymns in Spanish, accompanied by a pianist and guitarist.
The evening before Pope Francis consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Marian devotional images from the represented nations were lined up near the sanctuary.
“Whenever the Hispanic people gather here,” said Auxiliary Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski, the principal celebrant, “it’s always a beautiful celebration of their Catholic faith, and their witness to us is just tremendous as a church.”
In his homily, Bishop Rozanski connected the colloquial Spanish expression “Thanks be to God” to the readings for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Just as Naaman expressed gratitude to God in 2 Kings 5:14-17, Bishop Rozanski said, “May we all be as grateful to God as Naaman and the one leper, who realized the great gift that God gave them in their healing as we realize the great gift God has given to the world of the wonderful, vibrant and loving Hispanic culture.” According to the bishop, Hispanics also teach the “importance of family life, community support and joyfulness in prayer.”
“It’s taught me,” Bishop Rozanski said of Hispanic heritage, “the wonderful vibrancy of our Catholic faith and how important the Catholic faith is to those who come to this country and how we are united with them in our faith.”
After hearing the closing hymn, “Caminando Juntos,’ or “Walking Together,” the congregation did just that as one church across Cathedral Street to the Catholic Center’s Archbishop Borders Hall for a reception.
Archdiocesan Hispanics will gather again Oct. 16 at St. John the Evangelist in Columbia for the annual Conference on Hispanic Ministry.