For Latin Immigrants, Church Is Home, Says Auxiliary of New York

Interview with Bishop Josu Iriondo

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NEW YORK, NOV. 5, 2003 ( Auxiliary Bishop Josu Iriondo of New York is responsible for assisting the Big Apple’s growing Hispanic community. Some 4 million Latin Americans live in New York and its environs.

Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Mexico are the principal countries represented by the immigrants. In this interview, Bishop Iriondo, of Basque origin and a close aide of Cardinal Edward Egan, describes the work of the Church for Hispanics.

Q: Are we leaving the “Church of the poor” behind?

Bishop Iriondo: The truth is that we don’t realize that the poor were the ones who built everything: churches, schools, hospitals. Now, we — for example, in New York — are proud of a very beautiful church. But it cost the poor and perhaps we forget those poor, who come in great masses to this city. We think they are powerless when, in fact, power lies in each person.

Q: How do they live this fact in New York, one of the richest archdioceses of the world?

Bishop Iriondo: We are trying to open the doors and every day we are more aware that if we wish to live as a Church, we must welcome the immigrant. He is the one who holds on to God. If we ignore him, we will die, so will society. Those who are well off are asleep. That’s how Rome fell.

Q: Is it possible to welcome immigrants with love, after the events of Sept. 11, 2001?

Bishop Iriondo: Yes, it is possible. One thing is what is said in the media, quite another the reality. …

Q: What was the role of the Catholic Church in the face of these events?

Bishop Iriondo: The firemen and police who died were Catholics in the majority, but we took care of everyone. And the Church was present. She mobilized very well to be close to those who suffered that enormous tragedy.

Q: Is the Church acting well in regard to immigrants?

Bishop Iriondo: When the immigrant arrives here, in New York, and sees a church, he says: “That’s my home.” The problem is that many times he finds it closed. We must … help the immigrant so that he will really have the identification he needs. It is an invaluable moral help.

Q: Wasn’t this the original meaning of the Church, a home for everyone?

Bishop Iriondo: Yes, of course. What happens is that before, the Church had no buildings. The Church was any place where people gathered together around Christ. The problem today is that we invest much time in buildings and neglect the people.

Q: Is that perceived in New York?

Bishop Iriondo: When you are very organized, you are respected, admired, you have many responsibilities, but you run the risk of neglecting the neediest.

Q: What programs do you have for immigrants?

Bishop Iriondo: All parishes have their programs for immigrants. There are protection and consular agencies, and those that give moral support. There are hundreds of programs. We try to have an immigrant find a church where he will feel at home. And assistance is enormous, [from] sisters, brothers, priests. We work so that they will live with dignity, in the fields and in the city. In medicine …

Q: How do you address the popular religiosity of immigrants?

Bishop Iriondo: The Church must always be popular. It is about the person and his relationship with God. The church that is financially well off can forget its content. We are nothing without the people. What is important is that the people connect with their God, and with the Eternal Word of the Father, who became man and walked with us. Now it is us who are trying to walk with him.

[By Jaime Septien, director of the weekly El Observador]

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