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Arlington bishop welcomes Salvadoran prelates, reaffirms diocesan support for immigrants

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In an attempt to increase visibility for an immigrant community increasingly under threat, Salvadoran prelates met with congressmen on the Hill as well as members of the Salvadoran community at three parishes in the Washington metropolitan area, including the Cathedral of St. Thomas More.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge concelebrated an evening Mass with his brother bishops, including one who was a close friend of the martyred and soon-to-be canonized Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero of El Salvador, at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington April 12.   

Earlier in the week, the Salvadoran prelates —  Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez, Archbishop José L. Escobar Alas of San Salvador, Bishop Elías Bolaños of the Diocese of Zacatecoluca and Bishop William Iraheta of the Diocese of Santiago de María — visited St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring and the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington. The Arlington stop delivered the highest turnout — with 800 attending the Mass — likely due to the large Salvadoran community throughout the diocese. A reception followed in the church hall. 

In addition to offering spiritual support to the 125,000 Salvadorans throughout the Diocese of Arlington, the visiting bishops also opened themselves up to questions during a panel discussion that preceded the Mass. 

The Q&A was held in Spanish with quick translations by Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami who joined the Salvadoran bishops and Bishop Burbidge. Bishop Emeritus Paul S. Loverde also concelebrated the Mass.

During the panel discussion, more than a dozen people lined up to ask questions, focusing primarily on the Salvadoran bishops high-level political meetings with members of Congress to secure legal status for Salvadorans and other members of the immigrant community as well as greater aid for El Salvador, which has been racked by gang violence.   

Father José Hoyos, director of the diocesan Spanish Apostolate, was the master of ceremonies for the event. He was especially grateful for Bishop Burbidge’s presence throughout the evening.

“Bishop Burbidge is letting the Hispanic community know that Christ is with us in this struggle for immigration reform,” Father Hoyos said.

At the start, Father Hoyos introduced the bishops, who were seated together beside an image of Archbishop Romero, to the nearly 300 people gathered in the church hall. Many Salvadoran families with young children filled the 155 chairs that were set before the panel with more people standing on the sides.

The Salvadoran bishops, along with Archbishop Wenski and Bishop Burbidge, attempted to assuage concerns, especially the anxiety caused by the uncertain future of the Temporary Protected Status program, or TPS, for Salvadorans who fled their home country.

The bishops emphasized the importance of increasing the "visibility" of the Salvadoran community to immigration policymakers by highlighting the strong work ethic and faithfulness of its members. For example, one attendee, José Edgardo Granados came to the United States from El Salvador as an early beneficiary of Temporary Protected Status 26 years ago and for the past 11 years he has taught Spanish at St. Louis Catholic School in Alexandria. He received U.S. citizenship on May 9, 2007 and he is hopeful that others in the Salvadoran community with TPS will find their path to citizenship as well.

“I have all of my hope that God is in charge and he is going to decide what is best,” Granados said.

Granados’ son, Gerardo José Granados, was the artist who created the image of Archbishop Romero that was placed beside the panel of bishops. According to Granados, there is a possibility that it will be the official portrait of the martyr used by the Catholic Church for the canonization ceremony.

Martina Benavides, who is also Salvadoran and attended the event at the cathedral, expressed her hope that Salvadoran families in danger of being separated will be granted permanent status in the United States.

“Thank God the church is united in prayer to give residency to all immigrants,” Benavides said. “With God, nothing is impossible.”

Benavides also was grateful for the presence of Bishop Burbidge, asking him to pose with her and her friend, Ana Vasquez, for a selfie. She found out about the event from Father Hoyos, who constantly reiterates the faithfulness of the Salvadoran families to the Catholic Church as well as the reality of their pain.

“Immigrants are suffering now because of the new immigration policy even though many of them have been here in this diocese for years and have children who were born in United States,” said Father Hoyos. “They have roots here.”

In a statement released April 12, Bishop Burbidge reaffirmed his solidarity with the Salvadoran community.

 “The presence of so many of the faithful from El Salvador among us — an estimated 125,000 — provides a valued contribution to the Diocese of Arlington,” Bishop Burbidge said. “I am most appreciative of their many contributions and their witness of faith.” 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018