Parishioners of churches in Brentwood and Hempstead where Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez will celebrate Mass next weekend said they hope his visit will help turn some gang members away from the violence that has plagued both communities and offer support to those afraid of crime.
Rosa Chávez, who Pope Francis in May named the first cardinal in El Salvador’s history, will celebrate Mass at St. Anne Catholic Church in Brentwood on Saturday night and at Our Lady of Loretto Catholic Church in Hempstead the following morning.
Bishop John Barres, leader of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, said he hopes Rosa Chávez’s visit will provide some solace to immigrant communities rocked by a wave of gang killings.
Alejandro Reyes, 49, a parishioner at St. Anne and a Mexican immigrant, said Rosa Chávez’s presence and words may inspire some young people “who do bad things” to change their lives and guide parents in how to keep their kids out of trouble.
“He can help orient young people who are now disoriented, and orient them to do what’s right, like work honestly,” Reyes said in Spanish before Mass Sunday morning at St. Anne.
St. Anne parishioner Cristina Bustillo, 59, said she hopes Rosa Chávez’s visit strengthens the Catholic Church in Brentwood and “moves people closer to God.” That, she said, would reduce gang violence.
“If you believe in something, it helps prevent bad ideas from affecting you,” she said in Spanish. “If you don’t have faith, you don’t know how to do what’s good.”
Cindy Carol-Molina, 46, a parishioner at Our Lady of Loretto and a Salvadoran immigrant, said the association many make between Salvadorans and gangs — MS-13, suspected in numerous slayings across Long Island, was founded in the 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles — “gives us a bad image.”
The visit of Rosa Chávez will “show we have a love for God, that we’re on the right path, that we’re not all bad,” she said.
Luis Barrezueta, 53, an Ecuadorean immigrant and St. Anne parishioner, said the cardinal’s visit also can offer hope to immigrants worried about the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration, although he doubted his presence will do anything to stop deportations.
“He can tell people not to despair, to stay calm,” he said. “At the very least, he can reduce the fear. But even though the church tries to help, a priest or cardinal is one thing. Immigration law is another.”
Medarto Molina, 30 a parishioner at Our Lady of Loretto, said that as a Salvadoran immigrant, he is “so proud” that Rosa Chávez is now a cardinal.
Molina, no relation to Cindy Carol-Molina, said he’s eager to see him in person.
“I’ll be in the first row to see him, the man who is the first cardinal of El Salvador, someone so close to God, someone who has the possibility of becoming pope,” Molina said. “What a blessing it would be to have a Salvadoran pope.”