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Archbishop visits to cement bonds

By Michelle Martin


Archbishop Roberto González- Nieves was born in New Jersey, but shortly thereafter, moved to Puerto Rico with his family.

Since then, the Archbishop of San Juan, Puerto Rico, has traveled back and forth between the island and the mainland United States many times.

“I think I’ve traveled back and forth almost every year since I was three,” said Archbishop González, 57.

That habit of moving back and forth is common among Puerto Ricans, and one of the reasons for the strong ties between those who live here and those who live on the island, said the archbishop, who visited Chicago to celebrate Mass in anticipation of the Feast of Our Lady of Divine Providence, the patroness of Puerto Rico.

Archbishop González, a Franciscan, celebrated Mass with the assistance of Puerto Rican deacons at Maternity BVM Church Nov. 16; he returned home to celebrate the feast in his own diocese Nov. 19.

Pope Paul VI named Our Lady of Divine Providence the patroness of Puerto Rico in 1969, and the feast day was moved to Nov. 19, the anniversary of the discovery of the island. But Puerto Ricans had developed a devotion to her as far back as 1850, he said.

“In Puerto Rico, it’s a major civic holiday as well,” said Archbishop González. “Every parish has a Mass, and there are processions, and in the afternoon in San Juan there is a ‘rosario cantado’ — a sung rosary. Many parishes have novenas or triduums in preparation.”

A statue of Our Lady of Divine Providence — Mary seated, with a sleeping infant Jesus in her lap — travels among the parishes and to the homes of the faithful, the archbishop said.

“Our culture is basically Catholic, even though today it’s a pluralistic society and there is a diversity of religious confessions,” he said.

The United States, however, has more Protestant underpinnings, and the observance of Catholic practices is far more private.

“For example, when I came to New York for seminary, and Holy Week came, everything went on more or less as usual,” he said. “Of course, there was a pause for Good Friday. In Puerto Rico, there is a pause for all of Holy Week, and Good Friday there are processions and the Via Crucis.”

Not having such public displays of faith can be a challenge for Puerto Ricans coming from the island, Archbishop González said. His visit is one effort to maintain the relationship — and the faith.

“It’s important for us to strengthen the bonds with the diaspora,” he said.

The archbishop has estimated that about 4.4 million Puerto Ricans have left the island, mostly for the mainland United States.

About 113,000 Puerto Ricans were counted in Chicago during the 2000 census, and they are the second-largest ethnic group of Latinos in the area. Unlike immigrants from Mexico and other countries, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, as the island is a commonwealth of the United States, and can travel and move freely.

Before celebrating Mass Nov. 16, Archbishop González attended a luncheon sponsored by the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce, the Office for Hispanic Catholics and the Catholic Extension Society. The event offered an opportunity for him to meet with Puerto Rican elected officials and business leaders during his stay. After the lunch, he blessed La Casa Puertorriquena, a community center.

The relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico allows people to bring the fruits of those opportunities home, he said, creating a tighter relationship.

“There is a greater growth that will benefit both communities,” he said. “Our people’s roots are in Puerto Rico, but you want to grow where you are planted, so there are not two communities, but one, with a diversity of roots and people. In that sense, the United States is a wonderful experiment in social progress.”