THE BLOG
09/22/2015 05:52 pm ET Updated Sep 21, 2016

¡Bienvenido Pope Francisco to Améric@ Latin@!

Years ago, I coined the expression pastoral hostility/hostilidad pastoral to express the frustrations and righteous anger any number of us Catholic Latin@s in ministry and in theology experience. For those mostly Latin@ volunteers in ministry who accompany nuestras comunidades and witness their suffering from the indignities of poverty, broken immigration policies, labor exploitation, and insufficient access to education, prophetic rage is a proportionate response to such violations of human dignity. For those underpaid Latin@ lay ministers, who fund their own theological educations in order to serve their commuities, after years of enduring fallout from the clergy scandal, limited resources, closing parishes, and abuses of power and privilege, the thunder of Jesús overturning tables models a strategy worth entertaining, even if only fleetingly. For Latin@ theologians who insist on theologizing from within the heart of complex identities, and see in daily lived experience (vida cotidiana), sources of theology, "hagan lío," your papal instigation to make a mess, to stir things up, is a professional mandate.

The coverage in the secular and religious media of your second papal journey to América has roused mi hostilidad pastoral. I wonder where are the voices of our Latin@ prophets, our table-turners, our noisy, trouble-making theologians? Why are we treated as marginal to our own experiences? Why are we reading about the possible relationship between nuestras comunidades and you, our Latin American Pope, from the overwhelming perspectives of "expert" outsiders, or scholars for whom we are objects of study not subjects living our faith daily in all its diversity--cultural, ethnic, linguistic, regional. ¡Escribimos y hablamos inglés! Some of us are bilingual, sometimes switching in the same sentence! We can speak for ourselves--in a cacophony of accents, dialects, languages--articulating the variety beneath the umbrella "Hispanic" in the USA and en nuestra iglesia católica.

So as your plane touches down at Joint Base Andrews, bienvenido a Améric@ Papa Francisco. Whether we admit it or not the USA is a part of América latina, a region defined by geography, shared language, and cultural inheritances rooted in the Iberian colonial project. We are the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world behind our North American neighbor México. We passed our primos (cousins) in Colombia and España this summer. You are visiting us during Hispanic Heritage Month, the period set aside by the federal government to commemorate our contributions to the greater society. Unfortunately our celebrations here tend to reduce most peoples to a few significant "firsts" and of course comida!

How wise of you to visit Cuba on the same voyage. True we share a conflicted relationship, reflected in too many familias. But so few in the USA even know that José Marti and Rev. Félix Varela lived in exile here, mostly in New York City and Florida. Marti published in Spanish and inglés, Varela advocated for the immigrant poor --the Irish immigrant. Too bad you will not get to visit Varela's parish when you pray at the 9/11 Memorial. The church is not far from there, in what is now Chinatown, serving yet another wave of immigrants, in Mandarin and Cantonese.

Your passage through the Caribbean is a symbolic action reminding the USA Church that Hispanics are not the new face of Catholicism, but a most ancient presence. Our oldest diocese is really en Puerto Rico, if you take into account the complicated and painful colonial relationship between the USA and la Isla del Encanto. The canonization of Friar Serra is another one of those complicated situations, especially in a nation and church that has yet to truly account or repent for legacies of sinfulness in its treatment of the people of the First Nations, the African diaspora, and victims of imperial expansion. As a son of immigrants you might notice the streaks of xenophobia and racism that continue to haunt this land and our pews, hopefully you will challenge us to face our responsibilities to each other.

Mil gracias for recognizing the Latin@ plurality of the USA Catholic Church. From the composition of our ecclesial and theological leadership you would never know that we Latin@s are not the diversity--somos la iglesia! We are the Church! Under the age of 30 nuestra gente are the majority. Your virtual audiences with nuestro pueblo across the country, in our cities and at the southern border, en Los Angeles, Chicago y McAllen, communicated to us that you know nuestra realidad aquí. Judging from some of the hate chatter in the blogosphere, your use of Spanish en los Estados Unidos is not universally appreciated. Some think you need to learn inglés. Mi abuela never really did, and I mourn the loss of mi lengua materna.

For the record, we Latin@s understand you too. We get that popular religion is a locus theologicus (Evangelii Gaudium, #126). Our varied practices and devotions continue to sustain so many through sus luchas. We are on board with your call to care for creation. According to recent surveys, more than most, we believe the dangers of climate change are real. Our Latin@ theologians engage each other ecumenically, share a commitment to social activism, and analyze critically the non-innocent contexts that shape our histories and relationships. We live and create our identities at borders, on hyphens, and @all sorts of places.

Personally, as a Latin@ Catholic theologian who is una nieta de inmigrantes, I share your passion for justice for all migrants. I am particularly drawn to the attention you bring to cities in your theologizing, probably because I identify as hurban@́, Hispanic and urban, thanks in part to my New York roots and distinctive Bronx accent. My Spanish, or more accurately Spanglish, carries traces of the Caribbean from the Cuban sojourn of mis abuelos gallegos, the influences of Nuyoricans and Mexican Americans, and Castilian pronunciations of certain words spelled with c or z learned in childhood.

In your brief and hectic travels in the USA, may you find yourself at home in our company. Welcome to nuestra complejidad!