A retired archbishop from Cumaná, Venezuela, offered heartfelt prayers for men, women and children living amid the socio-political unrest in his beloved country, and for many Venezuelans who have recently arrived in New York and other U.S. cities, exhausted, traumatized and seeking asylum due to the turmoil in their South American nation.
“The Lord is a Father who does not abandon us, a pastor who accompanies so many in their crossings through the dark valleys of Darién (wilderness region, Panama/Colombia),” said Archbishop Emeritus Diego Rafael Padrón Sánchez in his homily at the annual Our Lady of Coromoto Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Our Lady of Coromoto is the patroness of Venezuela. The Sept. 11 afternoon Mass, conducted in Spanish, drew several hundred people. Archbishop Padrón, the principal celebrant, began his homily by expressing gratitude to Cardinal Dolan and archdiocesan Catholic Charities for “offering generous support” to many of the Venezuelan asylum seekers who have arrived in New York in recent months.
“And we recognize that the Virgin Mary unites us, and she invites us to live one faith, one baptism, one Church; we have a profound love for her, and we affectionately call her Our Lady of Coromoto,” the archbishop said. “We Venezuelans continue to be one people...Through Mary we have received life in Christ, in the Spirit and in the Church.”
Archbishop Padrón went on to speak about the necessity of maintaining faith and resilience, citing the date, Sept. 11, and the experiences of those affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks 21 years ago. “We share the sad memories of those days,” he said.
The archbishop, noting the days’ readings, spoke about the significance of the forgiveness of sinners, “and the joy that God feels when the repentant sinner returns to Him.” And he spoke of the rich Catholic-based and cultural history of Venezuela. As for the current social crisis in Venezuela, the archbishop said he prays that “a new sun will illuminate the shadows of death in which we now live, and guide us to the path of reconciliation, justice and peace.”
The Mass concelebrants included Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of archdiocesan Catholic Charities; Father Lorenzo Ato, communications director for archdiocesan Hispanic Ministry; and Father Brian McWeeney, director of archdiocesan Ethnic Apostolate.
Msgr. Sullivan, in closing remarks, affirmed the support and solidarity that the Church in New York maintains with immigrants from Venezuela and other countries. “Over the past two months, we have had the blessing and the responsibility of serving more than 2,000 people from Venezuela who are now in New York, who are trying to receive security and opportunity…We assist them with the hands of Christ,” he said.
Oly Salasales, president of the archdiocesan Our Lady of Coromoto Committee, who expressed gratitude to Archbishop Padrón and the Archdiocese of New York in closing remarks. “It is an honor for us that the archdiocese allows us to have this annual Mass...Thank you to all who are present, and blessings to all.”
The other two Mass concelebrants were Father Alexis Bastidas, pastor of St. Teresa’s parish on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, who is Venezuelan-born; and a priest who traveled with the archbishop to New York from their native Venezuela, Father Carlos Viñas.
The story of Mary under the Coromoto title comes from her apparition to Chief Coromoto of the Cospes tribe near Guanare, Venezuela, in 1651 and again the following year. After the second apparition, a small painting of her was discovered, depicted with the Child Jesus on her lap. Venezuelans celebrate their patroness each year on Feb. 2, Sept. 8 and 11. In 1942, Our Lady of Coromoto was declared the patroness of Venezuela.