Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Belief Without Borders

In observance of the Vatican-sponsored "World Migration Day," bishops from both sides of the US-Mexico border met in the middle for Mass:
The local observance of the international event began on the steps of Laredo's San Agustin Cathedral, just a block from the Rio Grande, the natural boundary that separates Texas and Mexico. The march followed on the heels of the Texas-Mexican border bishops' meeting held the previous day in Laredo.

A similar group from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, began walking from the other direction. The two groups met for a balloon release, converging on the Convent Street bridge that joins the two countries. A Mass celebrated by the Texas and Mexican bishops followed on the banks of the Mexican side of the Rio Grande....

"We're here to pray for all persons who come to the U.S. to get a better life," said Imelda Guzman, who came to the event with her husband, Rafael, and their four children.

She and her immediate family are all U.S. citizens living in Laredo, but some of her in-laws and friends have traveled back and forth across the border without documentation.

"I have friends whose parents have died in Mexico and they can't go to the funeral because their families are here and they can't get back here if they go," she told a reporter from the South Texas Catholic, newspaper of the neighboring Diocese of Corpus Christi.

The impact current U.S. immigration law has on families and the church's position on the dignity of the human person were concerns shared by many of the pilgrims.

In a processionlike manner, the peaceful march made its way to the bridge and paused along the route several times as various speakers read a Scripture verse, followed by a brief reflection.

"When you turn away the immigrant, you turn away the Lord Jesus," said the speaker at the first stop.

Guzman has encountered people who crossed into Texas from Mexico and have been abused by the coyotes paid to smuggle them across the border.

The ability to have a better lifestyle in Mexico and other Latin American countries would deter many from fleeing their homeland, Guzman said, but until then people will continue to do what they feel they have to do to provide for themselves and their families.

"So, we are here to pray for both sides so God can change their hearts. He is the only one who can do that," she added.
The Migration Day event is but one of several Border Masses celebrated through the year; the photo above comes from an annual fence-straddling liturgy for the Day of the Dead/All Souls Day.

* * *
It's no secret that, more than almost anyplace else, the diocese of Brooklyn is the universal church in microcosm.

Sunday Mass is celebrated in somewhere around 80 languages in the nation's fifth-largest local church, which counts a flock of 1.6 million from (at last count) 167 countries. Now in its fourth decade, the diocese's Migration Office is world-renowned for its work with the newest additions to the melting pot, including a significant number of international priests and religious brought over to serve their respective communities and the faithful at large.

One of the import clergy -- a student-priest from Ghana working in a Brooklyn parish -- recently got an unexpected summons home... not from his bishop, but as one.
Father Dominic Yeboah Nyarko, pastoral associate at St. Columba Church, Marine Park, begins this new year celebrating a double blessing – being recently appointed to the episcopacy and being named the first bishop of the newly created Diocese of Techiman in his native Ghana.
The Vatican announced Pope Benedict XVI’s selection of Bishop-elect Nyarko on Dec. 28. Word quickly spread in his home Diocese of Sunyani and his parish, St. Paul’s, in his home village of Nsuta. Announcements were also made at St. Columba’s weekend Masses, Dec. 29-30....
On Jan. 4, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio welcomed the bishop-elect to his office at the Chancery and presented him with his first purple zucchetto to denote his new status.

“As soon as he heard, he invited me. He was happy to share the joy with me,” said Bishop-elect Nyarko, who is still surprised by this honor.

“He told me he’ll support me with prayers and that I shouldn’t be nervous. He advised me and really encouraged me.”

The new prelate had no idea he was being considered for such an assignment until Dec. 19, his birthday. When he returned to St. Columba’s Rectory after celebrating his 54th birthday with priest-friends, there was a DHL Express letter waiting for him.

“I opened it and the Apostolic Nuncio (to Ghana, Archbishop George Kocherry) wrote telling me the pope wanted to appoint me the first bishop of Techiman,” he recalled.

Two days later, the archbishop telephoned but Father Nyarko was still praying about his response. After talking to the archbishop, he sent an affirmative reply.

The archbishop announced the creation of the new diocese and named its first bishop at a gathering of priests and Religious from the Sunyani Diocese in Techiman on Dec. 28.

Since then, the bishop-elect’s cell phone hasn’t stopped ringing, day or night. As of Jan. 5, he had only 50 minutes left on his 600-minute per month cell phone plan.

While he received calls from around the globe, the person the newly named bishop was most happy to speak with was his mother, Mary, who was shocked. “She couldn’t understand how they’re giving me this big position,” he said, smiling.

He explained to her, “The Lord appointed me and He will give me the strength I need.”

He also knows his father, who died last year, is watching over him. His father was “a devout Catholic who traveled 12 miles every Sunday to receive the Eucharist” and helped erect a chapel in Nsuta. His father prayed one of his eight children – five sons and three daughters – “would decide to follow the Lord.”...

Four years ago, he came to Brooklyn intending to help at St. Columba for one year. After getting a feel for the parish, he decided to stay and pursue his master’s degree in family counseling at Fordham University. He planned to return to Ghana after commencement exercises this coming May.

Now he will not only have to adjust to a new role in the Church, but the bishop-elect will face the challenge of building a new diocese. The Diocese of Techiman covers 8,652 square miles and is home to 695,826 people in the Brong-Ahafo region of central Ghana. Carved from the Sunyani and Konogo-Mampong dioceses, the Techiman Diocese consists of seven civil districts, namely Techiman, the capital district and major marketing center, Kintampo North, Kintampo South, Nkoranza, Atebubu, Sene and Pru. The new diocese has 31 priests and 23 Religious serving 79,645 Catholics in 13 parishes.

As bishop, his first objective is to travel throughout the diocese and “see what’s prevailing.” Most people in the Brong-Ahafo region are farmers, who grow subsistence and cash crops, including cocoa, yams and maize. They raise sheep and goats primarily to feed their families.

He wants to focus on improving the quality of life for his people by increasing access to potable drinking water, schools, health clinics and chapels, particularly for deprived families in rural areas.

Fostering vocations is another goal for the bishop-elect, a former vocation director. He’d like to have vocation rallies and annual gatherings for seminarians and youngsters to meet diocesan priests.

“The zeal is there. On Sundays, people are ready to stay all day to listen to the Word of God. We have to help them,” he said.
The bishop-elect will be ordained and installed in the new diocese in late March.

PHOTO 2: Marie Elena Giossi/The (Brooklyn) Tablet