Monday, September 08, 2008

Newark's Humble "Healing Bishop"

Just over 100 miles from Wilmington, the second half of today's historic Circuit Double-Bill takes place in Newark, where Auxiliary Bishop-elect Manuel Cruz will be ordained this afternoon in the Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

The fifth Cuban-American elevated to the episcopacy, the Havana-born Cruz, 54, is the first of its emigres to become a bishop in Jersey's archdiocese, where the adjoining towns of Union City and West New York form the largest concentration of Cuban exiles outside the community's main hub of Miami. Not by coincidence, today's ordination takes place on the feast of the island's -- and Cruz's mother's -- patroness, the Caridad de Cobre.

To commemorate the event, the archdiocesan Advocate features a full package, including reaction from the local Hispanic community and a profile of the veteran hospital chaplain and med-school lecturer:
"Service and presence is very important. I want to be of help, I want to be there to support my people and provide them with encouragement," Bishop-elect Cruz explained. "I am here for everyone."...

Passionate about healthcare, Bishop-elect Cruz gleaned valuable lessons that will impact his work as a bishop. "It was a great privilege for me to work with the sick and dying," he said. "It was rewarding for me. You see the face of Christ in these people. I have seen tremendous gratitude for my presence. Even patients on respirators offered a 'thank you.' I learned that death is imminent and what really matters is a sense of faith."

Seeing patients close to death has made Msgr. Cruz appreciate life and accept things he cannot change. "I learned to surrender and that when everything is defeated, hope gets you through. These patients live the Passion and the Resurrection. Witnessing their faith has taught me what priesthood is," Bishop-elect Cruz explained.

In his position as Episcopal Vicar of Union County, he plans to familiarize himself with the community in order to better serve the people. Just sitting down with the parishioners and having a cup of coffee while making his presence known is important to the newly appointed bishop.

"I have no grandiose project (as bishop). I just plan to infiltrate myself into the community and walk with them. I want to visit the priests and laity and have them know who I am on a personal, individual level. I am here to service them."...

Fleeing communist Cuba at a young age, Msgr. Cruz is proud of his title as "refugee" and believes that living through the experience has strengthened him and deepened his faith. He recently arranged for medicine to be shipped to the island for a sick young woman. "The medicine is expensive and hard to get in Cuba. This situation really put things in perspective for me. You ask yourself 'Why am I here? Why am I so different?' As a refugee, you realize that everything you have is a gift."

Msgr. Cruz is indebted to the religious communities in the archdiocese who offer him prayers and continue to serve the community. As a young boy in Cuba, he was greatly influenced by the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul and still has a connection with the religious.

"I am grateful for the Dominican nuns and friars at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit. I am grateful for their prayers," he said. "Prayer and surrender to God's will is essential and is a continuing source of hope. We are all followers of Christ. We are all in the same boat."...

He emotionally recalled one night when the friars sang Christmas carols to a bedridden patient. "One of the novices held sheet music for a patient and she sang 'Silent Night' for the first time. She felt loved and accepted. She felt like a human being. That is what (our work) is all about- lifting people up. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ."

Meanwhile, as he prepared to ordain his fourth auxiliary in the see of 1.4 million, Archbishop John Myers offered some notable notes on the selection process (elapsed time: two years, all told), and -- in a nod to his background -- one local pastor hailed Cruz as a "healing bishop":
[The] word doctor has been a fascination of Cruz's since his days in communist Cuba, where he lived until the age of 12, when his parents, Caridad and Juan, now deceased, immigrated legally to the United States on Sept. 5, 1966 - a little more than 42 years to the day he becomes bishop. "No boat. With me, we came by plane and train. No drama," said Cruz, 54, who admits he still speaks with a Cuban accent. He knew no English when he settled in Union City and was thrilled to find himself surrounded by Cubans and other Hispanics. His family worshipped at St. Augustine's, still one of the largest Hispanic parishes in the Archdiocese. He graduated from Union Hill High School, and learned English gradually along the way.

But some of his memorable moments of learning the Catholic faith came from a Cuban nun who also worked as a pharmacist in Cuba. Since his parents decided to leave the country, he had to learn religion in underground fashion and met the nun for one-on-one tutoring in the pharmacy. Cruz absorbed more than the Commandments and prayers, though, and began a lifelong fascination with medicine and healing....

During [one] assignment, his mother, Caridad, was diagnosed with brain cancer. His desire to learn as much as he could about the illness found him absorbed in self-study and consultation with doctors he met at Newark hospitals on pastoral visits. Soon he found himself as chaplain at St. Michael's Medical Center in Newark and eventually as Vice President for Mission & Ministry for Cathedral Health and Human Resources Corporation, the hospital wing of the Archdiocese. He was in heaven. He began to learn all he could about neuropathology. "I tell you I have seen doctors every day for 14 years," said Cruz, but he also adds, "and so much sadness," referring to the difficult role as pastoral minister in a hospital setting.

Those moments trump any fancy medical knowledge he has acquired. When I reached him recently, he was with a family. He married the parents and baptized their two children, now 7 and 8. The father had just died and he had to break the news to the children. He spent nine hours consoling the family.

He hopes to be able to be present to people as much now as a bishop as he did as a priest "to celebrate with God's people."... He dismisses any of the talk about the trappings of his office. Simply put he says, "I feel humbled."

PHOTO: AP/Mike Derer