Catholic Is Spanish for Devotion

By Richard Ruelas
The Arizona Republic [Phoenix AZ]
June 16, 2003

The worst was when the traveling priests would return home from spreading the good news in some foreign country. Mass on Sunday was enough of an ordeal, but these sessions were during the middle of the week and it was all in Spanish. A young Ben Miranda didn't understand much of it, or care, but he knew if he fidgeted, he'd get pinched.

"They would speak for three hours," Miranda says. "C'mon, give me a break."

His family would go because they were good Catholics. There was no other choice.

Their faith was their identity. "Kennedy and the cross" were the living room decorations in his childhood home, Miranda says, referring to the country's first Catholic president and the usually graphic symbol of Catholic devotion.

Miranda grew up with a healthy respect for the Catholic Church, as did many other Mexicans in Phoenix.

In other parts of the country, it might be the Italian community or the Polish community. But here, it is the Hispanics, particularly the sons and daughters of immigrants, who treat the church's authority with the most reverence.

Miranda's grandmother might have hauled him away by his ear had she seen what he did outside the state Capitol this month. The state representative from Phoenix and other Hispanic leaders called for Bishop Thomas O'Brien to step down.

One of their main beefs with the church is that a number of abusive priests worked in largely Hispanic parishes.

The diocese denies it used the Mexican community as a dumping ground for bad priests.

But its own records, and legal documents, show a pattern in the transfers of the priests who have been criminally indicted: All but one were sent to Hispanic parishes after allegations of sexual abuse.

The priests preyed upon the most vulnerable of their parishioners. The diocese then preyed upon its most vulnerable churches.

Miranda sees it as a violation of a historic tie between Mexicans and their church.

"In our culture, you sense it, and you feel it," he says. "The way we bond with the Catholic Church is different."

It's telling that so few of the victims who have come forward with claims of abuse are Mexican. Miranda figures there are hundreds who are keeping silent, still remaining true to the church, not wanting to question a priest's reverence.

"We have all lived with the fatalism aspect that's engrained in the church," he says. "Well, you know you have it bad, but things will be better when you get into heaven. And accept what's going on because it's God's will."

It is a strong bond.

It is the reason why a lapsed Catholic like myself can still remember when to stand up and sit down in Mass, and can still recite the entire Nicene Creed - "We believe in one God, the Father Almighty . . . " The same with the Eucharistic prayers - "When supper was ended he took the cup . . . "

It is the reason families like Miranda's, in order to pray for a sick relative, would walk on their knees from a church's entrance to its altar.

It is the reason why a savvy politician like Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox would stand behind her bishop as he issued a defiant public statement that stood in contrast to the humble tones of his signed confession.

Wilcox isn't talking about why she agreed to be at O'Brien's news conference, or why she honored his request to help mend fences with the Hispanic community. But those raised Catholic know the answer:

A good Catholic, particularly a Mexican one, can't do anything else.

Reach Ruelas at (602) 444-8473 or


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