On Saturday, Oct. 14, Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral hosted the first diocese-wide Hispanic Heritage Celebration to mark the conclusion of National Hispanic Heritage Month. Begun in 1968 by President Lyndon Johnson as a weeklong celebration and expanded to a full month in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan, Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the diverse histories and cultures of Americans who come from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America.
For years, parishes from throughout the Diocese of Raleigh have held local Masses and festivals to celebrate Hispanic heritage, but for the first time, buses and cars filled the parking lot at Holy Name of Jesus as part of a single, large, day-long celebration.
Groups from Mexico, Honduras, Peru and Colombia presented cultural performances that included dancing, singing and traditional attire. A swirl of colors splashed across the stage as Grupo Folklorico from St. Eugene Parish in Wendell offered a vibrant ballet. Hands clapped and feet stomped while the Huepa Culture and Arts Institute from Durham pounded the stage with a series of Colombian dances. And the camera phones came out for the youngest performers, 3- and 4-year-olds from St. Stephen Church in Sanford, brightly arrayed in a rainbow of hand-stitched dresses.
Throughout the day, participants visited tables containing photographs, food and cultural items from various Latin American countries. The Colombian table offered coffee-flavored hard candies, and the Mexican demonstration included items such as a mortar and pestle that children could use to simulate grinding of spices.
“It’s so beautiful to see all of the people from the different countries. I love this,” said Mildred Ortiz, who attends St. Catherine of Siena Church in Wake Forest. “I am representing Puerto Rico, my home. As you know, we were recently hit by Hurricane Maria, but we will keep going forward, and by the grace of God, we will rise!”
The day featured a special Mass celebrated by Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama, who was born in Colombia and is the first Latin American bishop in North Carolina.
A procession of flags preceded the opening hymn, and cheers erupted throughout the packed cathedral as each community recognized its national colors.
“We are from many countries, but we are united by the same language,” said Bishop Zarama during his homily. He went on to detail that there are many unique traditions that identify the various distinct cultures of Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean. “We want to maintain our identity, and we feel proud of it,” he said. “We must show it to the new generation.”
Following Mass, an Aztec drum circle surrounded the piazza in front of cathedral, and performers danced across the bricks to the indigenous rhythm. Those gathered assembled under tents, enjoyed lunch and watched the afternoon showcases.
Ricardo Veloz, coordinator of Hispanic Youth and Young Adults for the diocese, organized all of the performers for the celebration. From behind the stage, he looked and smiled, “Everything is going beautifully.”
By the conclusion of the day, more than 2,000 parishioners from throughout the diocese had participated in the Mass and festivities. The next major diocesan event for the Hispanic community is the gathering of parish leaders for the national V Encuentro process at St. Ann Church in Clayton on Nov. 11. For more information on the V Encuentro, which is a four-year process initiated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, visit: https://vencuentro.org/.