Cardinal’s Visit Buoys Salvadorans on LI

El Salvador’s Cardinal Gregorio Rosa-Chávez, with a Salvadoran family in Uniondale, New York. (Photo via La Tribuna Hispana)

El Salvador’s Cardinal Gregorio Rosa-Chávez’s three-day pastoral visit to Long Island, New York – during which he met with parishioners of the large Salvadoran community living in the area – is considered historic.

As expected, the most popular events were the masses held in Brentwood’s Saint Anne’s Church on Saturday, Aug. 19, and Our Lady of Loretto Church in Hempstead on Sunday, Aug. 20, and the one held at a Uniondale high school. Despite the limited seating, the Salvadoran community attended the ceremonies in large numbers.

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Overall, the cardinal’s visit was a grand Catholic festivity that exceeded the expectations set by the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which organized the historic visit.

“As Salvadorans, we feel very proud about our first cardinal’s visit and, as Catholics, I think it is a message of hope saying that God is always close to us, especially at this moment when we are uncertain about what could happen with our immigrants who still don’t have papers and also when the world is facing the threat of war,” said Salvadoran-born Faustino Hernández, who attended the Mass that the cardinal gave at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale.

Although a diverse audience flocked to the event, it had an undeniable Salvadoran flavor: It featured traditional Central American dances and ended with the Eucharist.

“It is a blessing to have him with us, and he has come with the word of God, which is very important for our community, as we are enduring uncertainty about what may happen,” said Federico Nájera, a Mexican immigrant who went to the Uniondale event. “We need that peace he transmits to us, and that is what Cardinal Rosa-Chávez has brought us: the grace of God.”

During his Long Island visit, Cardinal Rosa-Chávez did not miss the opportunity to talk about gang violence, pointing out that it is a complex issue rooted in familial dysfunction. In that context, said the priest, “it is very important for parents to worry more about spending time with their children than about making money.”

Still, the cardinal added that police repression against the MS-13 is not the right way to eradicate the gang problem.

“When a repressive response is applied, the perpetrators feel cornered and become more savage. That is what is happening in El Salvador: Gangs react by killing police officers and their families. That is not the way to go.”

Interview with the cardinal

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LTH: Salvadorans living here on Long Island were eagerly awaiting you. How have you perceived that, and what have people asked for the most?

CRCH: “Undoubtedly, the issue causing the most concern is immigrants at risk of deportation. Also, gang violence. I was in the area where five Salvadoran kids died, and spoke to their relatives and the community, who are very worried for the safety of their children. We gave them a lot of hope. We also visited the jail, where we had a beautiful experience spending time with the members of our community who are imprisoned, and we brought them a message of fortitude but, most of all, of faith, as I believe that is what my visit has given them: hope.”

LTH: What is your main takeaway of your first visit as a cardinal to Long Island, home to thousands of Salvadorans?  

CRCH: “Well, it is a great, shared joy, as it is Monsignor Romero’s 100th birthday, which coincides with my designation as the first cardinal of El Salvador. People are very happy about that, and I think it is like a caress from God to our country that also touches those outside of it.”

A visit to the Nassau County jail 

One of the milestones of the Salvadoran cardinal’s visit to Long Island, New York, was his meeting with the inmates of the Nassau County jail, in East Meadow. It was the first time in history that a Catholic cardinal visited the correctional center.

A group of 50 inmates in orange uniforms looked surprised to see Cardinal Rosa-Chávez enter the prison’s chapel to say a morning Mass on Saturday, Aug. 19.

“I am very happy to be here with you and share this moment,” said the cardinal in Spanish. His words were translated by Rockville Center Auxiliary Bishop Nelson Pérez.

“There is a chapel in this prison,” said Rosa-Chávez. “Christ lives among all of you.”

Two inmates spoke to Rosa-Chávez from a podium in front of the chapel.

“We want you to know that we are working to promote a culture of fraternity and peace behind these walls,” said one of them, whose name was not revealed.

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At a second religious service for the Spanish-speaking prison population, Rosa-Chávez greeted each inmate as they entered the chapel, asked which country they came from and offered a brief hug to every one of them.

Jail manager Sheriff Michael Sposato called the visit “a great honor.”

The inmates “could not believe it,” added Sposato. “No one could believe that there was a cardinal here.”

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