On the past January 5th, we commemorated the 525th anniversary of the celebration of the First Catholic Mass for the Americas. It was presided by the special envoy of Pope Francis, Cardinal Rosa Chávez of El Salvador. We leave here the first part of his homily
Dearest brothers and sisters:
I greet you with emotion in the name of the Holy Father Francis, who in the letter in which he appoints Me as an Extraordinary Envoy for this great commemoration of the 525 of the first Mass in the New World, he says, “We ask that when you preside the celebrations, greet in our name and from the deepest part of our heart to the assistants, and express them our sincere affection.” Yes, my dear brothers and sisters, the Pope keeps you in his heart of universal pastor of the Church; a Latin American heart.
Then, the Holy Father adds, “We ask that you exhort all believers, especially the sacred pastors, to always preserve the Catholic faith, proclaim it with courage, and make it live through love and good customs.”
The five discussed points in this homily have the following titles:
1. “Everything started here.”
2. Past, present, future.
3. “Arise, shines Jerusalem, the glory of the Lord dawns upon you.”
4. “And the peoples shall walk in your light.”
5. “From the hand of Mary, Our Lady of Altagracia.”
We will give the contents of titles 1 and 2, and in the second installment the 3
1. “Everything started here”
“It all started here.” My dear brother and friend, Monsignor Ramón de la Rosa, made it clear to me with legitimate pride. Those three words continue to resonate in my heart.
Yes, my beloved brothers and sisters, everything started here. The collective pastoral letter of the Dominican episcopate, The Eucharist source of communion, impulse for the mission, which you have studied, meditated and applied, begins precisely with this idea: “From the threshold of the evangelizing mission in the New World, the people of God who are a pilgrim in the Dominican Republic have fed on the bread of heaven served at the Eucharistic table. This island has the privilege of having been the stage where the first Mass was celebrated in America, presided by Father Bernardo Boyl, apostolic delegate, in La Isabela, Puerto Plata, on January 6, 1494” (n.1).
It is true, everything started here and that’s why we’re here. Here, everything began during the second trip of Christopher Columbus. Eight years later, in what is now Puerto Trujillo, on the north coast of Honduras, in a scenario like this, the Holy Host rose for the first time on the mainland of the American continent. The chronicle says that Christopher Columbus could not attend because he was sick and his brother represented him.
On that occasion, the Extraordinary Envoy of Pope St. John Paul II was our Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez. Jesus called the first disciples by the sea, and next to the sea, he gave the order to Peter: “Row out to sea.” It is evoked by Saint John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation Novo Millennio ineunte. Let us meditate on his inspired and inspiring exhortation, which begins with the invitation to “remember with gratitude the past, live with passion the present and open ourselves with confidence to the future (because) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb 13:8).
2. Past, present, future
First, we come to remember with gratitude the past, and to remember, says the Pope, is to return to the heart. We return to the heart to give thanks to the Lord because his mercy is so great. We come to remember. Listen to Pope Bergoglio:
On the solemnity of Corpus Christi the theme of memory appears again and again: “Remember all the way that the Lord, your God, has made you travel [...]. Do not forget the Lord, [...] who fed you in the desert with a manna,” (Dt 8:2,14,16), Moses said to the people. “Do this in memory of me,” (1 Cor 11:24), Jesus will say to us. “Remember Jesus Christ,” (2 Tm 2:8), Saint Paul will say to his disciple. The “living bread that has come down from heaven” is the sacrament of memory that reminds us in a real and tangible way the story of God’s love for us (Jn 6:51). Remember, memory is important because it allows us to remain in love; to remember that is to carry in our hearts, not to forget that he loves us and that we are called to love (Homily of Corpus Christi, 06/18/17).
Secondly, the Holy Father asks us to live the present with passion. You have done it as a Church, especially during a year of preparation, which your pastors declared YEAR OF THE EUCHARIST, a year of grace that attracted pilgrims to this holy place from the eleven dioceses and the military ordinariate. Here we have 525 representatives from each of those circumscriptions. I greet you with immense love and I am sure that God’s gift will never be forgotten.
And we are here to open ourselves with confidence to the future. That is why, at the end of this wonderful celebration, the launching of the Second Stage of the National Pastoral Plan will take place. Allow me to repeat once again with emotion and gratitude that everything started here, and in that beginning the young layman Ramón Pané came into the picture, whom they rightly call “the first American catechist.” It is good for us to remember him on vespers of the World Youth Day that will take place very close to us. I get excited to imagine that young man under 30 years of age participating in that first Eucharist. His passion for the Gospel was such that he learned the languages of the Indians to be able to evangelize them. He prepared a family of Taíno Indians for baptism; a family that accompanied him in his apostolic travels, and they were assassinated for having changed their faith. Would not be the members of that family the first martyrs of America?
When talking about martyrdom comes the heartfelt figure of Bishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero who in that unfinished Mass of March 24, 1980, changed the readings, choosing chapter 12 of Saint John where Jesus compares himself to the grain of wheat sown in the earth. Our Saint Romero of America and the world made this brief comment:
“If it did not die, the grain would be left alone. If it bears fruit it is because it dies, of letting it undo on earth, and only by undoing it, it produces the harvest.”
That day, Monsignor did not have readers or altar boys; he himself proclaimed the readings, without moving from the center of the altar. Seconds after the homily, while preparing to offer bread and wine, an accurate shot pierced his heart. Pope Francis, the day he canonized him, wanted to wear the bloody girdle of the first Salvadoran Saint.