For permanent deacons of the diocese, ministry can take on many diverse forms. The ministry of Deacon Miguel Santos has involved working with the diocesan Office of Cultural Diversity to help immigrants, particularly refugees on Buffalo's West Side, adapt to new life in the United States. He assists a wide variety of people as part of his diaconate service.
"I work with the Hispanic population, in particular out of my parish, Holy Cross (in Buffalo)," Deacon Santos explained last month. "The Office of Cultural Diversity gets involved with all the different language groups, although the area I have really emphasized heavily under the Office of Cultural Diversity, along with (the office's director) Milagros Ramos, is our African community."
Holy Cross is located on Buffalo's West Side, an area with "multi-African communities" that continues to receive an influx of refugees and immigrants, who consist of the majority of that area's population and who have a variety of concerns and issues unique to them. In the Office of Cultural Diversity, Deacon Santos sits on two committees: the Hispanic Commission and the African Commission.
"Under the Hispanic Commission, we talk about all the activities that are taking place with the Hispanic communities," Deacon Santos commented. "Last year, I provided a course on the sacraments to people, in Spanish, for the diocese. Then, of course I serve whenever requested, besides my parish to participate in various Masses, both in English and in Spanish."
The diocese has recently begun to focus on evangelization, which Deacon Santos said works well for the Hispanic population since they have, traditionally, had a strong relationship with the Catholic Church for centuries. Deacon Santos also plans to continue this work with communities from Africa. "Since my ordination a year and a half ago, we have sponsored an international African program," he said.
This program focuses on St. Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese saint who was born in 1869 and died in Italy in 1947. She came from humble beginnings as a slave to become a Canossian Sister known for ministering to Italian children like a mother. St. John Paul II canonized her in 2000.
"We exposed the people from various countries in Africa to who St. Bakhita is, and how this came to be. In that same program, we also focused in on how the Virgin Mary has been appearing in various places in Africa, but we focused in on Kibeho, which is in Rwanda. Our Lady of Kibeho appeared before the genocide took place in Rwanda (in 1994) and forewarned the people of what would happen."
Using this story, Deacon Santos used this opportunity to inform participants about how the Virgin Mary has appeared to people, as well as the life story of St. Josephine Bakhita. During this process, they were able to get various populations from all over Africa to come sing in various languages.
"We had a choir that sang in English, French, Swahili, Arabic and Dinka," Deacon Santos said. Dinka is a language native to South Sudan. "It was just a wonderful, wonderful program. We had a Mass with Bishop (Richard J. Malone), and then we had our activities afterward."
When asked about the refugee population living in Buffalo's West Side, Deacon Santos said it includes people from South Sudan, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Nigeria, Burundi, Liberia, Togo and others. When talking about these populations of people with others, Deacon Santos never refers to them simply as "the Africans" since they are so different.
"I put this in perspective, which most people can get: when you look at Europe, Ireland is so different from Poland, so different from England, so different from the Netherlands. (It's the) same thing with Africa. Each region is so different," Deacon Santos explained. "When we're working with the various African communities, there are different reasons why they're here. Working with people from South Sudan, some of the Christians were actually enslaved. With Rwanda, you had the genocide."
For people from many countries, a common reason for coming to the United States was persecution due to their beliefs. When Deacon Santos works with them, he discovers which European country - whether the Finnish, the French, the English, the Italian, the Irish or the Portuguese - had the largest influence as the primary evangelists in that country, and he takes this into consideration while serving them.
"Many African Catholics speak a number of European languages. As a result, at Holy Cross, we now have Mass once a month, the last Saturday of the month at 6:00 p.m., in French," Deacon Santos said. "Most started by the Congolese or the Republic of Congo, but (people from) Rwanda, Cameroon and other countries that speak French are starting to attend Mass in French, so that's a visible thing we can see."
Since there is a large Burmese population at Our Lady of Hope Parish in Buffalo, Deacon Santos would like to minister to them as well. The Office of Cultural Diversity is about to start another commission focusing on Asian Catholics. Myanmar, formerly Burma, is a diverse country of Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Buddhists. In the process, Deacon Santos is creating relationships with these various ethnic communities so he can find ways in which the diocese can effectively work with each of them.
By working with people from different parts of the world, Deacon Santos sees how the Catholic Church is universal, hence the small "c" form of the word "catholic," meaning "universal."
"We absolutely see the universal Church right here in our diocese," Deacon Santos added. "I consider it an absolute privilege to work within a missionary environment, where we are bringing the Word of God, the Body of Christ to those in a new environment who are searching. I find people who are deeply religious. I find people who are looking to find their place here in Buffalo, and the United States. The Catholic Church has a major responsibility in working with these new citizens so they can find a home within the Church."