MARQUETTE, Mich. — The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is home to a growing population of Hispanic Catholics. They've had a spiritual father and brother in Archbishop Alexander Sample.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand they are the future of our church in this country," Archbishop Sample says. "The church is growing because there are Hispanics. We need to recognize and celebrate the fact that this in many ways is going to give life to the church."
Many Hispanics in the Upper Peninsula are experienced dairy workers who have been hired at farms near the Wisconsin border.
In the city of Marquette, the largest urban area in the region, Hispanics have found jobs in the service industry. The same goes for Mackinac Island with its tourist trade.
The cook in the rectory at St. Peter Cathedral in Marquette was a dentist in Mexico. Archbishop Sample deeply respects her. He would speak Italian to her and get tips on learning Spanish.
During seminary at Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, he took part in a Hispanic ministry training program. The students attended Mass and prayer in Spanish.
The archbishop worked hard on Spanish before going to World Youth Day in Madrid in 2011. A computer language program helped.
As of late, he has been reading El Centinela, the Spanish-language newspaper for the Archdiocese of Portland.
The archbishop hopes young Hispanics in the U.S. will not discard their culture and heritage. "It is sad to see any immigrants wanting to abandon their traditional ways," he says.
He pines for his own Polish heritage, which comes through his mother but has faded over generations.
"It's good to know American ways, but you don't have to abandon your culture to be American," he says.
The church, he explains, celebrates culture. He's looking forward to that in Oregon.
As a member of a U.S. bishops' subcommittee on Native American Catholics, Archbishop Sample has been invited to take part in church discussions on national immigration reform.
"Our immigration system is broken," he says.
It's important to him that the 11 million undocumented citizens now in the country have a path to citizenship, even if the process includes fines and waiting in line. It's crucial that reform keep families from being split, he adds.
As much as possible, Archbishop Sample says, the U.S. should help improve conditions in countries that are sources of heavy immigration.
"There has always been the American dream, but the volume coming from some places is an indication that something is wrong," says the archbishop, who maintains that the U.S., like any nation, should be able to protect its borders.
At a January press conference introducing him to Portland, Archbishop Sample spoke to Spanish-speaking Catholics of western Oregon in their own language. He's still learning Spanish, he said.
But in spiritual language, he's fluent. Like most Hispanic Catholics, he has a deep devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. She is not only a national symbol of faith and pride in Mexico, but patroness of all the Americas. Pope John Paul named her "Star of the New Evangelization."
"I am a Guadalupano," Archbishop says. "Our Lady of Guadalupe speaks to the little ones, to those who find themselves marginalized and poor. She never comes to bishops, or scholars, or rich people, but to those like St. Bernadette and St. Juan Diego. And she didn't come with any grand revelation or message except 'I want a church built here so I can be a mother to my people.'"
In his private chapel in Marquette, he kept an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that has been touched to the original tilma in Mexico City. The image includes a vial of soil from Tepeyac Hill, where Mary appeared to St. Juan Diego in 1531.
The archbishop notes that Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is shown as pregnant, is patroness of the Respect Life movement.
He sits on the board of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis., a pilgrimage site begun by Cardinal Raymond Burke, former bishop of La Crosse. Built on a bluff above the upper Mississippi River, the shrine includes a striking stone church where laity and religious pray at all times, especially for people in need.
The mission of the shrine is to keep proclaiming Mary's message about God's mercy and love.
Another project at the shrine is developing catechesis and forming catechists for the New Evangelization. That excites Archbishop Sample. The model for the task is St. Juan Diego, who would welcome guests and tell them of his experience with Mary and his love of God.