Visiting the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington July 6 and celebrating a multicultural Mass there, the new archbishop of Washington, Archbishop Wilton Gregory, told the faithful, “we lose nothing when we decide to be sowers of peace.”

“On this first visit I come to wish peace to this parish. I will pray for peace for all of you,” Archbishop Gregory said, urging those at the Mass to be conciliators and sowers of peace in their homes and neighborhoods.

The first African-American archbishop of Washington made his first visit to the multicultural parish established in 1899 in the heart of the Latin quarter of the nation’s capital, where he witnessed the mosaic of faith in the Archdiocese of Washington.

Archbishop Gregory processes into the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington for his July 6 Mass there. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

Archbishop Gregory entered the church with a smile and a clear message promoting acceptance among people and unity in the midst of diversity. He found a warm welcome, cheerful music in several languages, friendly people who do not hide their faith, and a united community that lives its love for Christ with devotion.

Capuchin Franciscan Father Emilio Biosca Agüero, Sacred Heart’s pastor, welcomed the archbishop to the parish. He gave a brief historical account of the parish and highlighted the diversity of the church that has welcomed immigrants from Central America, Africa and Asia.

The Shrine of the Sacred Heart offers three daily Masses and seven every Sunday, in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole and Vietnamese.

The Mass was offered mainly in English and Spanish and included Haitian music, and people in native costumes joined the opening procession holding the colorful flags of their home countries.

Choir members at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart sing during Archbishop Gregory's July 6 Mass there. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

Archbishop Gregory gave a short homily, connecting his message with the Sunday Gospel and the first reading from Isaiah that begins by urging Jerusalem to rejoice and be glad. He referred to Jerusalem as a holy place, a place where hostilities continue, but a place that deserves peace. In this context he stressed the importance of respecting others, regardless of race or language.

The faithful prayed for countries in difficult situations, such as Venezuela and Cameroon, and also for their parish community “so that we can continue to grow as missionary disciples united in the love of Christ.”

A girl sings during the Mass at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart.           (CS photo by Mihoko Owada)

After the Mass, parishioner Celeste García said, “We came to welcome the new archbishop to Sacred Heart, we want him to know a little about our culture. I would like him to visit our parishes, to communicate with us, to know about our needs – mainly spiritual ones – to be present, to know the people of God and to support us especially in this difficult moment that our community is going through,” she said, referring to the anti-immigrant attitude that has been increasing nationally.

Julio López, a native of Guatamala, said, “I would like the archbishop to know more about the problems that the Hispanic community is going through.”

Immigrants there said they feel welcome in parish, find support for their individual and family needs, and have the ability to develop their leadership as lay people.

For example, at the Sacred Heart School building, free English classes are offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m.
 “We sympathize with migrants, with or without documents, and we show support to those who need it,” said parishioner Roxana Cruz. “We orient them and refer them on how to to get housing, community or government benefits if they qualify, work, health insurance and more.”

Cruz is the director of the “La Cena” program, a parish initiative supported by grants and donations from the community, through which food is served to the homeless every day from 4 to 6 p.m.

 She said being a member of the parish has ignited her passion to serve her neighbor and has strengthened her faith.

“I was part of the youth group ‘Cristo Joven del Sagrado Corazón,’ and it has helped me to know key values, it has motivated me to inspire other young people and to transmit the message that Jesus is alive in our lives,” she said.

She added that she was very happy to see the new archbishop of Washington in her church.

“It is important that the community knows him, knows that he is watching us and that we have his support,” she said, adding that she would like him to know that Hispanic Catholics represent a high percentage of the Catholic Church in Washington, are very active in the faith and come together in difficult times.

Now, when the Hispanic community faces deportations, family separations, prejudices and attacks, Cruz said she feels worried. “I have friends without documents, I know they are afraid to go to work, to the store or to take their children to school,” she said.

Cruz’s parents crossed the Rio Grande River in the 1980s, fleeing civil war in El Salvador, seeking safety for them and the well-being for the family members they left in their native land.

“It was worth the effort of my parents, and thanks to that, the whole family could have a better future full of opportunities in the United States,” said Cruz, a graduate of the University of Maryland.

“I am very excited to meet the new archbishop and welcome him,” said 23-year-old Laura Cruz, a member of the Cristo Joven del Sagrado Corazón youth group. “I want him to see the diversity in the parish and how we all work together.”

A man prays during the Mass at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

Alexander Díaz said he posted on social media, a photo of the archbishop with Hispanic faithful and said that the message he gave was very important, urging the faithful to be bearers of peace.

Archbishop Gregory experienced a joyful faith community and a sincere welcome at Sacred Heart, mirroring what one immigrant after another has found in the parish for more than 100 years.

(This article is translated from an article written by Andrea Acosta, a reporter for the Spanish-language El Pregonero newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.)