Invisible no more
Duarte Center building needed bridges between immigrants, Americans
By Wendy A. Hoke
CLEVELAND-In a home in Wooster, immigration advocates have gathered about 25 people from various Hispanic families to pray the rosary. They’ve traveled from Cleveland to share their Catholic faith—along with valuable information about their status in a country torn apart by the immigration debate.
The goal? To build a bridge between the Latino dream of America and the isolated reality they often find here.
“In meetings we ask, ‘Do you want to go back to your own country?’ (and) 99 percent will say they want to go back,” said Jose Amin Cortes, a native of Colombia and one of the three people on the staff of the year-old Archbishop Isaias Duarte Center.
Based at Our Lady of Lourdes Church off Broadway Avenue, the center is named for the archbishop of Cali, Colombia from 1995 to 2002, who was an outspoken critic of Colombian guerrillas and drug traffickers. The bishop was slain by two gunmen outside of a church after he had presided over a wedding Mass.
“We tell immigrants that they are in America so get to know Americans and let them get to know you. Why else are you here?” said Dora Harper, another staff member who also translates for Cortes.
The difficulties new immigrants face is much larger than what the center can address, but Harper, Cortes and Sister Jane Blabolil believe they must reach out to develop leaders in the Latin community, help them understand their rights as immigrants and improve their quality of life.
Sister Blabolil, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Third Order of St. Francis, is new to the effort, having returned in December from 20 years as a missioner in Peru. “So many are isolated here,” she said. “Many are undocumented, working with the same ethnic group and not having any contact with Americans. They have no need to learn the language. But that takes away their confidence and their ability to know and be known.”
The advocacy effort is rooted in Catholic faith, a common point of contact that could swing wide open the doors of understanding between Latino immigrants and Americans. But there are challenges to reaching the population even through church.
“There are limited Spanish-speaking Masses outside of Cleveland,” Cortes said. “Most people live far from the central city and just to commute is to take a risk.”
The answer, he explained, will not be found in more Spanish language liturgies, but getting the immigrants more involved in the American Catholic church.
Most immigrants admit that they came here to get a better life, Cortes said. Many have achieved the goal of earning more income.
“However, the cost they are paying is very high—the loss of family and friends and the loss of culture. Most important is their sense of being an invisible people,” he said.
In America Hispanic immigrants are largely invisible and are considered criminals because of their “illegal” status.
Cortes believes that the solution to immigration is in fostering greater understanding.
“Just like the Europeans who came here running from war, hunger, disease, misery and lack of opportunities, the people from Latin America also leave for the same reasons,” he explained. Many cannot return because their government has condemned them.
“We need to think through the solution of how to help our neighbors,” he said. “They come here with big dreams and are surprised when they find something very different.”
Americans do not realize that immigration law changed in 1986, effectively saying that anyone who lets their visa expire will never be able to become U.S. citizens. That leaves large numbers of immigrants in this country who are unable to change their status.
So the Duarte Center’s mission is two-fold: to assist the immigrants with pro bono legal help, educate them on U.S. laws, teach them the language, help them find a place within the Catholic Church and help them to become leaders of an American faith community that isn’t divided by native land. At the same time, the center tries to help Americans become more aware of the realities for immigrants, to educate them on the stumbling blocks to becoming citizens and to find a way to being missionaries in their own faith communities with their own neighbors.
For more information on the work of the Duarte Center, call Harper at 330-256-8124.
Hoke is a freelance writer.
And then there was this feature from the Catholic Life section:
Deacon Bill Starkey is living his ministry
By Wendy A. Hoke
BEDFORD HEIGHTS — Bill Starkey was trying to make sense of two back-to-back tragedies when his wife Cindy informed him they were going back to church.
He had lost his father and his brother tragically in 1992 and was seeking answers to explain the sudden losses.
“I found the people here at Holy Trinity very welcoming. They didn’t know what had happened in my life but they sensed something had rocked me,” he said. “ I got more involved with the church and eventually people starting saying that I would make a good deacon, including our pastor.”
At first he dismissed the notion, but he prayed on it eventually it started to make sense to him.
“Quite surprisingly I was accepted in the first round and entered formation with eight others with whom I became very close. They became my surrogate family,” he said.
He credits his wife and the entire parish community of Holy Trinity for getting him through formation. “They were very uplifting. There was always someone there to pick me up.”
Working in construction and juggling the academic and time commitment to formation was pretty tough. Deacon Starkey’s wife had a full-time job and carried the family’s health insurance so she suggested he find something part time that would free him up to pursue his studies.
The city of Bedford Heights was looking for van drivers for seniors. A former police officer, fire fighter and paramedic, it’s in Deacon Starkey’s nature to help others so he took the job and became advocate for city’s seniors. In December, a group of seniors attended a city council meeting to show support for Starkey being named coordinator of senior services for Bedford Heights.
Today he coordinates everything from the emergency alert devices, transportation, snow removal, lawn care, bingo night, special events and social services. He’s been known to sing at special events and even has his own “doo-wop girls.”
It’s his quick and kind response that impacts residents. Recently, a resident had written a note that said, “Help me,” and put it in her mailbox. When the mailman picked it up he called Deacon Starkey, who then got the police and social workers involved. “Within hours we learned that her roof had caved in and water was pouring and the power had shorted out. We got the woman here, got her warm and fed and then provided transitional housing while her roof was repaired,” he said.
The ministry works both ways. When Deacon Starkey’s mother passed away in May, every one of his seniors came to the funeral home. “Pastor Albert Veigas told me to give the homily. It was tough, but those seniors got me through that, just by looking out and seeing their faces.”
Like a lot of parishes, Holy Trinity is older with a strong mix of racially and ethnically diverse families. Its demographic mirrors that of Bedford Heights. “It’s very warm and open. People shake your hand to greet you whether you’re a stranger or a friend.”
As permanent deacon, Starkey has liturgical duties on the weekends, handles the bereavement ministry and works with Father Veigas in the operation of the church.
He insists that he remains the same Bill Starkey he was before ordination and peppers his conversation with a healthy dose of common sense. There’s a temptation, he said, to let the deacon collar go to your head.
“If you’re looking for perfection in me, you’re not going to find it. If it’s all about wearing the collar, then it’s for all the wrong reasons. I can do a ministry in shorts at a barbecue the same as I can in vestments preaching on a Sunday,” he said.
“I’m always interfacing with parishioners and seniors. There’s a lot of overlap in my two positions. I’ll be greeting someone at church on Sunday and they’ll tell me about grass that hasn’t yet been cut,” he said, laughing.
“I am who I am, which is 100 percent Bill Starkey. I’m God’s shepherd for this population that needs continuous help. This job is my family and the church is my family. I have a loving supportive wife and two terrific daughters. Being a deacon has made me better at all of those jobs.”
Hoke is a freelance writer.