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Rocking the boat in Miami: Archdiocese offers hope to melting pot of people.


MIAMI -- What critics say may be the most salacious double standard practiced by the outgoing Bush administration appeared to have occurred here again in late December when 53 Cubans landed at Miami International Airport on board a hijacked airliner.

Within three days of flying into Miami from Havana, every passenger who wanted to stay in the United States was released from federal custody. Forty-eight refugees, backed by lawyers from the powerful Cuban American National Foundation, elected to stay as legal aliens. Five other Cubans were voluntarily repatriated.

Critics say that, had the plane left from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, carrying Haitian refugees, the welcome from U.S. authorities would have been a cold shoulder and almost certainly immediate repatriation.

Although the United States does not have formal diplomatic relations with either the Cuban or the de facto Haitian regimes, activists point out that Washington, D.C., could not treat refugees from the neighboring Caribbean countries more differently.

When a Coast Guard cutter intercepts Cuban refugees at sea, Cubans, they say, come close to receiving green cards as they are pulled on board the American vessel. Under the current Bush policy, every Haitian refugee, rescued at sea, they point out, is summarily repatriated.

Whether the Latin American and Caribbean immigrants who have flooded and changed Miami over the past two decades are legal or illegal, the Miami archdiocese has been at the forefront in treating refugees with a color-blind, or rather nation-blind, policy. Whether Peruvian, Cuban, Dominican or Haitian, the archdiocese has acted as a powerful social agency and as a welcoming committee.

What follows over the next several pages is a profile of the Miami archdiocese showing how the church in southern Florida has responded to the radical demographic changes that have taken place in Miami since Jan. 1, 1957, the day Castro came to power in Cuba.

MIAMI -- Thirty years ago Miami was a sleepy retirement getaway. No longer.

Biscayne Bay and Miami International Airport not only receive cruise ships and jumbo jets, but they also are well-known beacons to Latin American refugees. But boatloads of Cuban and Haitian refugees are only part of how Latin America and the Caribbean have changed Miami.

The stability of the U.S. marketplace has turned Miami into the financial capital of Latin America. Besides Chase Manhattan and Citibank, the national banks of Brazil and Argentina maintain big offices on Biscayne Boulevard. Venezuela is Miami's largest trading partner.

"It's an incredible boom town that's been transformed from a cozy retirement area to a sophisticated crossroads," said Father David Russell, pastor of St. John Neumann in suburban southern Miami. "As an Anglo, I like living in Miami."

As Miami has changed from a predominantly white and English-speaking community to one dominated by Hispanics whose first language is Spanish, English-speaking Caucasians in Miami have been given a label: Anglos. Fifty-two percent of Catholics in Dade County, which incorporates Miami, were born in Cuba; 24 percent originate from the United States.

Many Miami Anglos enjoy what the Latin American influence has done for Miami. Much of the city's business is contracted to latin America. This reality is illustrated daily in The Miami Herald.

The Herald is the only U.S. newspaper that makes a priority of covering Latin America. It publishes at least two pages of news from the region every day in a section titled "Around the Americas." In response to Miami's Hispanic community, the Herald also introduced a separate Spanish-language edition.

The Anglo factor

But the Hispanic flavor of Dade County hasn't won over every Anglo. Not by a long shot. From 1980 to 1985, 115,000 Anglos moved out of Dade County. Many moved to neighboring Broward County. In this Anglo migration have also been several archdiocesan priests of Irish descent.

The Miami archdiocese encompasses the counties of Broward, Dade and Monroe, whose largest city is Key West. One Irish-American parishioner in Fort Lauderdale, Broward's largest municipality, told me: "The Cubans want everything and the Anglos have to pay for it."

Father Jose Luis Menendez is an example of the remarkable assimilation of Latin Americans in southern Florida but also of the first-class social work the archdiocese provides to poor immigrants. He joined the archdiocese in 1980 after being transferred from Madrid.

"I have the United Nations in one parish," the Cuban-born Menendez said, listing some of the nationalities that surround Corpus Christi Church: Puerto Ricans, Peruvians, Dominicans, Central Americans, Haitians and, of course, Cubans.

Set in what now is a warehouse business district and several ghettos in central Miami, Menendez said: "Tell me a problem. We have it. It's a supermarket of problems. But I'm happy when I'm weak because when I'm weak I'm strong.

"The two other pastors who are at Corpus Christi with me, we choose to be here. It's my first love." A sign in his rectory says, "Spanish is the language spoken here." Although strapped with financial problems, the church has opened four Catholic missions since 1990 and supports five homeless shelters and 26 drug rehabilitation houses.

Menendez took me to his "war room" inside the church rectory. It is an example of the priority the archdiocese has placed on evangelization.

Menendez said Miami Archbishop Edward McCarthy asked that every Catholic house in Dade County be visited and asked to come back home.

"Without them, the family is not complete," Menendez said. "The family is not together if we're all not sitting at the same table." He pointed to a street map of his parish boundaries filled with different colored pins marking residences of Catholic families.

This fall, Menendez organized 144 teams of parishioners to walk through parish neighborhoods to visit with Catholics. The evangelization effort was lead by the archdiocese to mark the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Americas. "No corner in our parish will not be visited," he said. Menendez took me to a side chapel that is dedicated to the patron of Peru, the Lord of the Miracle. It's open until 8 p.m. every day in a neighborhood where driving at night can be quite dangerous.

The religious ornaments in the chapel are bolted into walls and mantels. The church also has an alarm system.

"They're fixed so no one can steal anything," he said. "This is a typical innercity parish.... It's a dumping place for the people society doesn't want to be bothered with. Illegal aliens, people who don't have any rights. Apathy is in many hearts."

Menendez's dedication is paying off. His church runs a school, kindergarten through eighth grade. In 1978 enrollment stood at 419 but in 1985 the school only had 179 students. The future looked bleak. But with hard work enrollment increased to 235 in 1990 and for this year 244 students are expected to pass through the doors at Corpus Christi. Menendez said 714 students were enrolled in 1958 when the parish, like most of Miami, was dominated by Anglos. But the waves of immigrants pouring into Miami changed Corpus Christi and now Menendez estimates his parish is at least 85 percent Hispanic.

"Anglos don't want to come here. They think it's too dangerous," Menendez said frankly. "Anglos don't know how to be a minority group. They don't know how to come together."

Cuban influence

Eighth Street in Miami used to be called Eighth Street. Now when you enter the street from the west, drivers see a big sign saying, "Welcome to Calle Ocho -- Kimanis of Little Havana." Calle Ocho is Spanish for Eighth Street.

But the Kiwanis sign is more indicative of the Cuban influence in Miami. Like other immigrant groups, the Cubans started out in isolation, living in the same ghetto and starting businesses that catered to Cubans.

That has all changed. Chances are a market in an Anglo neighborhood is owned by a Cuban-American today. "The Cubans were the fastest assimilation of a non-English-speaking immigrant group in United States history," said Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh, president of Catholic Community Services for the Miami archdiocese. He said during a recent lunch at the exclusive Miami Club, the conversation at two nearby tables was in Spanish. Modeling a campaign to achieve its political agenda -- namely ousting Castro -- on the pro-Israel lobbies in Washington, conservative Cuban exiles used the business success of Cubans to build their own powerful lobby: The Cuban-American National Foundation, or as it's called in Miami, the Foundation. Its president, Jorge Mas Canosa, travels around Miami like the shadow president of Cuba. Wearing dark business suits, Mas Canosa holds regular press conferences and arrives at public events in a motorcade.

Like so many other prominent Cuban exiles, Mas Canosa was part of Brigade 2506, the 1,400 strong CIA-trained force that invaded southwest Cuba in April 1961. The disastrous Bay of Pigs landing -- 1,200 soldiers were eventually captured and released 18 months later in exchange for $53 million in food and medicine -- is a big part of Little Havana.

Near Teddy Roosevelt Avenue and Ronald Reagan Avenue, a ceremonial flame, modeled on President Kennedy's tomb at Arlington National Cemetery, burns in a small park dedicated to Brigade 2506. The park is close to the office the CIA staffed in the 1960s that was the largest CIA station outside of Langley, Va. "Only the Cubans would dedicate a street to the biggest imperialist in American history, Teddy Roosevelt. And of course, then there's Reagan Avenue," a friend told me as he drove me through little Havana one night pointing out the Santeria stores, harmlessly called botanicas, that sell animals for the ritual voodoo sacrifices.

Little Haiti

One evening I went to a meeting of an exile group that works to help ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The group, named VOAM, operates out of an unairconditioned storefront on Northeast 54th Street, the heart of Miami's Little Haiti.

On the walls many signs were posted. I noted two. "CIA-BUSH Stop your Genocide on Haitians Democracy with Aristide or Death." The other: "Cedras-Bazin + Assoc Must GO." Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras is the commander of the Haitian army. Marc Bazin is the de facto prime minister.

Unlike in Haiti where foreign reporters are usually welcomed by pro-Aristide Haitians, my reception was icy.

One VOAM member reprimanded me for walking into the meeting hall without asking permission first.

Another member told me, "Please explain to the American people that since the coup, newspapers in the United States never do nothing good about Haiti. We tell them good things about Aristide and they tell us shit." When you drive through Little Haiti, the pleasurable dance music of Haitian pop singers fills the streets. Creole radio stations are tuned in at Haitian-owned stores. Haitian flags are proudly displayed.

But like immigrant groups before them, Haitians in Miami band together to fight the prejudice of established Americans.

"Haitians kids in high school are nicknamed HBO, Haitian body odor. That's the kind of thing we're up against," said Roger Biamby, head of an archdiocese-sponsored English-language training program offered to Haitian refugees. One of Biambi's students is Evelt Jeudi, who worked in Haiti as Aristide's chauffeur. Father Jean-Pierre was the first Haitian-born priest to be ordained in the Miami archdiocese. He serves at Sacred Heart Church in Homestead, a city crushed by Hurricane Andrew in August. He joined the archdiocese in 1988. "I decided to come to Miami because of the influx of Haitians. This is my home now," he said. His diocese is filled with migrant farm workers who work the fields of southern Dade County. Homestead also has a large Haitian population.

"There is a negativism now among Haitians which we are working to help. The stigma of being boat people. Of coming from a country that people only know about because of political instability. This bad press forces Haitians to isolate themselves from the community," he said. Haitians, he said, like the Cubans, will successfully assimilate.

There are signs of that already. The Miami public radio affiliate broadcasts 30 minutes of Creole programming every weekday morning. In Dade County, signs detailing a new recycling program are printed in English, Spanish and Creole.

Haitians are proud of their new voting power. Bill Clinton, who is wildly popular among Haitians, carried Dade County in November, defying the foundation, which supported President Bush.

Not to be undone, Mas Canosa met privately with Clinton twice before the election.

Help for the homeless

"There is no safety net in Florida. We have to remind the state they have the responsibility to provide social assistance to the weak parts of society," said Monsignor John Walsh, who joined the diocese in 1955.

In an essay on Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll, who was in charge of southern Florida Catholics from 1958 until his death in 1977, writer Ana Rodriguez-Soto described the archdiocesan business: "Typical was his (Carroll's) reaction to the plight of unaccompanied children who were being smuggled out of Cuba in the early years of Fidel Castro's regime. Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh ... had agreed to help resettle about 200 of the estimated 7,000 refugee children.... When Carroll found out, he was furious. |Who do you think you are?' he scolded. |I am the bishop here! Well take all 7,000 of them.' Eventually the number of children smuggled out by Operation Pedro Pan (Peter Pan), as the secret program became known, reached 14,000. The Catholic church in south Florida waited for them at the airport, and used its own resources to house and feed them for more than a year."

Speaking of the archdiocese's current efforts to assist the homeless, Walsh said,

"This kind of work is nothing new for the archdiocese." Pulling together community business, religious and political leaders, Walsh convened meetings at the pastoral center this year to push Dade County to name a coordinator to head programs to assist the estimated 5,000 people who sleep on Miami's streets every night. He succeeded.

In August, with the archdiocese at the helm, more than 10 social agencies -- from public health workers to representatives from the Veteran's Administration -- descended on the Mud Flats, dirt fields under a highway overpass in downtown Miami, a filthy home for Miami's homeless.

Rather than ignore these people, the archdiocese helped organize a massive cleanup and install toilets, prompted the Red Cross to deliver food and doctors to administer HIV tests and provided lists of Dade County homeless and job services to point the way out of the Mud Flats.

One small, gentle 18-year-old, who didn't want his name published, told his story: "I'm from Liberty City. I have a sister and three brothers," he said referring to a Miami ghetto. "In 10th grade I gave up on life. I didn't have anybody. I just moved around. I became a prostitute. I was too scared to get help. That's why everyone is here. It hurts. You apply for a job and they ask what's your address. What can I tell them"

He, like many of the homeless, has the AIDS virus. As many as 25 percent of the people living in the Mud Flats may be HIV-positive, according to Dr. Pedro Jose Greer, medical director of homeless health care for the Camillus Health Concern.

"I have the AIDS side effects. I get hot. I get nauseous. Sometimes I cry. But this passes," the teenager told me. He said he bathes by using a hose found in a nearby park and walks to Jackson Memorial Hospital to obtain AZT medication.

Michael Green, 26, an eight-year Army veteran who became homeless after being discharged, said, "It's nasty. It's dirty. The conditions are like an undeveloped country. This is not the way it should be for the largest industrialized country in the world. The appearance is nice. But this needs a follow-up." Walsh being who he is, there probably will be.

Some Miami statistics:

* The Miami archdiocese comprises three counties in southern Florida: Dade, Broward and Monroe. The county's largest cities are Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Key West.

* 1.1 million people live in Catholic households within the boundaries of the Miami archdiocese. Dade County is by far the largest region, its Catholic population 800,000. Catholics make up 45 percent of the population in Dade County.

* The first languages of Dade County residents: Spanish, 901,270; English, 766,840; and French-Creole, 69-032.

* Hispanics make up 62 percent of the Catholic population within the archdiocese. In Dade County, Hispanics constitute 80 percent of the Catholic population.

* 91 percent of the adult Hispanics within the archdiocese were born outside the United States; 66 percent of Catholic Hispanics in the archdiocese are either from Cuba or have parents who were born in Cuba.

* Black Catholics in the archdiocese number 110,000; approximately 65,000 are of Haitian descent.

* 45 percent of Catholic children within the archdiocese are receiving formal religious instruction.

* 44 percent of Catholics attend Mass regularly. Not including Easter and Christmas and other special Catholic services, 33 percent of Catholics go to Mass no more than twice a year.

* 10 percent think extramarital sex is generally acceptable.

* 33 percent said premarital sex is generally acceptable.

* 54 percent think divorce is generally acceptable.

* 69 percent think artifical birth control is generally acceptable.

* 25 percent think abortion is unacceptable under any circumstance.

Sources for the above information are "Walking Together in 1985-1988," a Miami archdiocese synod; The Synod Survey Report. including statistics compiled in 1986 during telephone interviews with nearly 1,000 Catholic households in the Miami archdioces; The Miami Herald; and the 1990 U.S. Census.

Miami history

With help from a bishop who liked to plan far ahead, Florida Catholicism was ushered into the modern era.

In 1940, St. Augustin Bishop Joseph P. Hurley saw military bases springing up in Florida and anticipated a population explosion. By the mid-1950s, "10-acre Hurley," as the bishop was known, had spent $4 million on 10-acre parcels in the Miami area.

Indeed, from 1940 to 1960, Florida's population grew by 161 percent -- a boom that owed much to the post-World War II popularization of airconditioning, which Hurley and guessed would radically alter the hot and humid state. That time, the Catholic population jumped by 193 percent.

Hurley's legacy was to provide the church with enough real estate to build churches in new communities and to rent or sell parcels to meet immediate financial needs.

Hurley also foresaw the importance of becoming bilingual. He asked priests in Florida to learn Spanish. He set an example by doing so himself.

In 1953, Pope Pius XII divided the state into two dioceses: Miami and St. Augustin. The Miami diocese comprised 16 counties, half the state.

After purchasing thousands of acres in southern Florida -- with money Hurley netted from fees on parishes' incomes -- Hurley started what would become a defining characteristic of the Miami archdiocese: assisting the poor from Latin America. He commissioned nine nuns and six priests to begin a mobile ministry for migrant farm workers.

In 1958 Monsignor Coleman Carroll was named bishop of Miami. Carroll, known as "the builder," oversaw widespread construction of churches and parish buildings.

During Carroll's reign, the number of Catholics in the Miami diocese jumped from 185,000 to 700,000.

Another reason for the Florida church's phenomenal growth was Fidel Castro's takeover in Cuba.

On Jan. 1, 1959, with the Miami diocese less than a year old, an exodus of Cuban exiles began. In the next 10 years, more than 1 million Cubans would reach southern Florida, the biggest influx of refugees into the United States in 50 years.

Carroll demonstrated his enormous energy early in his Miami career when, after being bishop for slightly more than one year, he dedicated the first Miami seminary, St. John Vianney College, and established a diocese newspaper, The Voice, with a Spanish section, La Voz.

Within five years of the Carroll tenure, the number of parishes in the diocese jumped from 51 to 94 and the number of priests more than tripled from 86 to 305. In 1968 Pope Paul VI established the new ecclesiastical province of Miami. Rome also created two dioceses in Florida: Orlando and St. Petersburg.

In 1977, Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy succeeded Carroll. Two years later, McCarthy ordained two auxiliary bishops, including a prominent Cuban exile, Monsignor Agustin A. Roman. Roman was the first Cuban priest named to U.S. hierarchy in 200 years.

Under McCarthy's leadership, the archdiocese reached out to the 125,000 Cubans who poured into southern Florida during the Mariel boat lift. To protest the detention of 2,000 Haitian refugees in federal prison in 1980 while many of the Mariel Cubans were immediately named legal aliens, McCarthy celebrated Christmas Eve Mass at Krome Detention Center in Miami.

In 1984 the Diocese of Palm Beach was formed and the Miami archdiocese was reduced to its current geographical boundaries: the counties of Broward, Dade and Monroe.

In 1987, Pope John Paul II visited Miami. During the pontiffs six-city U.S. tour, Miami was the only U.S. diocese to fully fund the cost of a papal visit through private contributions. The estimated cost of the visit was $1.9 million.

The Miami archdiocese now serves 1.2 million Catholics in 100 parishes with 425 priests. It has 64 schools with an enrollment of more than 29,000.
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Title Annotation:Miami, Florida Catholics
Author:Slavin, J.P.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jan 15, 1993
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