Catholic Standard El Pregonero
Classifieds Buy Photos

Bishop Menjivar joins Georgetown roundtable to discuss immigration, workers, and community

Washington Auxiliary Bishop Evelio Menjivar was among roundtable participants at an Oct. 18 Latino Leader Gathering titled, “Strengthening Community and Resisting Individualism: Challenges for Young Latinos and Contributions from Latino Culture.” 

The event – held at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies – also featured Diana Dau David, who works at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is active in the young adult community at St. Ann Church in Washington, and Mirka Sosa, an immigration paralegal.

The focus of the event was to explore the challenges of excessive individualism and isolation and how elements of Latino culture can promote community, connection, and family. 

John Carr, founder of the university’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, said “the best thing [the Initiative does] is our gatherings of young people…When we first started, a group of young Latinos came to me and said, ‘This is wonderful. We want to be part of this, but we need a place. We need a time for ourselves. There's no place where we can really gather and talk about what affects us.’ Out of that came Latino Leaders Gatherings, and it's been going almost ten years,” Carr said. 

Christian Soenen, the projects manager at the Initiative on Social Thought and Public Life, served as the panel’s moderator.

“Tonight, we're talking about something each of us here can choose to change and improve directly in our lives and our communities. The connections in our lives, the togetherness, the mutual support that characterizes the spaces we inhabit and the people we share our lives with,” he said. “There's a long tradition of solidarity in Catholic teaching. We're never alone and don't exist for our own purposes.”

Soenen said that isolation has come as a necessity, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also in the form of “destructive individualism that's been the focus of Pope Francis’s warnings,” which includes wasteful consumerism, apathy, and indifference.

He said the discussion was aimed at exploring how Latino culture can challenge these trends and encourage working toward community. 

Soenen prompted Bishop Menjivar to discuss his journey to becoming the first U.S. bishop from El Salvador. 

“It's not hard to understand why young people…left their countries.  If you turn on the TV or the news and check the news online with the horrible wars going on in the world, you realize that for some people, especially young people, who live under those conditions, there's no future in their homelands,” Bishop Menjivar said. 

The bishop added this is similar to his situation growing up. He grew up during the Salvadoran Civil War, which spanned from 1979 until 1992. Bishop Menjivar said he was forced to flee Chalatenango at 12 years old.

“We moved to another town, and I started school there. That was good. I was 13 when I started third grade, and I was 18, almost 19, when I finished ninth grade. Obviously, there wasn't 

that much future in El Salvador for me,” Bishop Mejivar said. 

Although he said he had begun considering the priesthood, Bishop Menjivar felt he needed to leave to pursue a profession or vocation.

“I left my family and what was familiar, and I ventured to the north. The first trip, I ended up in Tijuana and was deported from there. Like six months after, I made it to Guatemala, and we 

went back. The third time, la tercera es la vencida, as we say, I was able to make it,” Bishop Menjivar said.

The future bishop lived in Los Angeles before moving to Maryland, where he joined St. Mark’s Parish in Hyattsville, Maryland, where he said he found support. He worked as a painter, which led to him earning his GED and then joining the seminary. 

“I never had imagined that I was going to be a bishop one day. I was just happy to be a priest, and then when I received the call, I was like, wow, I couldn’t believe it,” Bishop Menjivar said.

Soenen asked Bishop Menjivar why his ministry has had such a focus on immigrants and workers and how it 

“I am both: I am an immigrant, and I was, or still perhaps am, a labor worker,” Bishop Menjivar said…so I understand very much both,” he said. “Just to advocate for immigrants and workers, it is my passion, yes. But it's also my duty.”

Bishop Menjivar discussed the Church’s support of organized labor, how organized labor benefits the quality of life for immigrants, and how it is time and there is a responsibility to “show solidarity with workers.”

When it comes to encouraging young members of the Church to choose community over individualism, the bishop suggested that the attitude toward organized religion and politics is not of apathy but potentially an attitude of protest.

“Perhaps it's a sign of protest for the way that we are doing religion, doing politics because we kind of just make them consumers of a product that is already pretty fabricated in a way. Perhaps young people don't feel part of religion,” he said. “They don't feel engaged – they don't engage in politics precisely because, you know, they don't have much to say. So it's not that they don't want to get involved.  It's because, perhaps, again, we kind of just put them aside, and we just offer them a final product,” Bishop Menjivar said. 

 He added that to engage young members of the community, there is a need to make them feel part of their community. The Church offers opportunities to engage with one another, according to the bishop.

“I found a family in the Church and great support. If I am now what I am, it is because I joined a great community,” Bishop Menjivar said, recounting that he moved to the United States with only his brother and found community through his parish.

The conversation shifted to Diana Dau David, who works at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has a master’s degree in intercultural and international communication from American University, and is active in the young adult community at St. Ann Catholic Church in Washington, D.C.

Dau David grew up in Colombia and moved to North Carolina as a teenager. She said her family taught her how to seek the Church and community.

“God created us to be social beings. We crave connection, and I think that's something I learned throughout my life. Some of my own drivers have been the desire to connect and the desire to belong, that desire to have a purpose serving others beyond myself. It's something I learned growing up in a huge [Latin] family,” she said.

Dau David discussed the importance of resisting what is “familiar,” such as staying home and watching television over seeking community. She referenced her time in the Peace Corps and how that taught her about embracing community in an unfamiliar environment.

She is currently involved in is the Ark Young Adult Community at her parish. 

“It's really an all-encompassing community that's grown.  When you go to these events, you feel this joy that is very contagious.   It makes you feel like you belong. It makes you want to come back. It's really unique,” Dau David said.

Mirka Sosa, who graduated from Georgetown in 2023, works as an immigration paralegal at Wilkes Legal, LLC in Takoma Park, Maryland. While a student, Sosa was nominated by Georgetown President John DeGiola as a Campus Compact Newman Civic Fellow for her work with immigrants and the Latino community.

Soenen asked Sosa to describe her relationship with working toward community rather than isolation. Sosa, who is early in her career, said that she has had to reflect on her priorities and what community she wants to have. 

“As someone that is not living on a college campus right now, it’s very hard to build a community and keep in touch with that community. When I was in college, I had these opportunities to volunteer, and one of the main things that I participated in was working-tutoring programs for low-income, migrant students in the DMV area,” Sosa said. “Yes, that’s still a possibility now. I could seek those out, but I have to think about my capacity.”

She said while in Georgetown, she was surrounded by a “hyper-competitive” environment, which challenged her ability to form a community. She said she had to consider who stood by her side during difficult times. 

“I just had to continuously remind myself: when everything goes wrong or when I’m having hard times, who are the people that are there for me?” Sosa said. 

During the pandemic, Sosa regularly had to translate public health information in Spanish to her family and worked with elementary school students who were struggling to keep up because they did not have access to technology. 

“I think as a general U.S. community, we have forgotten these things that we talked about being highlighted by the pandemic. For example, talking about low wages for essential workers or access to technology. These are still needs that are not being met. But I think the pandemic really allowed us to recognize that there are different avenues of connection,” Sosa said, citing the increased use of video calls as people navigated communication during uncertain times. 

For Sosa, the environment at Georgetown compared to what she grew up with, which she described as a “heavily Central American and Mexican environment” in Texas where the “norm was collectivism,” resulted in internal conflict. 

“It was something that took me a long time to really come to terms with,” Sosa said. “I've been thinking about the balance that is needed.  Because, yes, we are our own people, and we need to look after ourselves. But we also need to look after each other.”

Soenen asked the panelists about how experiences as part of a communal culture can influence faith.

Dau David said she shared her culture through faith in North Carolina, giving the example of inviting her friends over for a Novena to pray, sing, and enjoy Colombian food during the days before Christmas.

Bishop Menjivar said it is important to “develop a sense of the common good,” which includes taking action outside of personal benefit and looking to better the community.

“It's so important to develop a sense of the common good. The Church has a long tradition of proposing precisely that. We cannot just try to better ourselves and our families, but as we enhance and we create a sense of well-being for others, everybody, in a way, is in reach,” Bishop Menjivar said.   

Following questions and comments from the audience, Soenen closed out the event by asking panelists to share what they would like audience members to take away from the conversation. 

Dau David said she encourages those not to be intimidated to reach out and seek community during hardship.

Sosa said to “take a breath and look into yourself and think about your capacity” to support marginalized communities. 

Bishop Menjivar said those who aren’t going to Mass should return to Mass and engage with a community that will encourage doing God’s work. 

“Don’t isolate yourself. We are kind of capable of doing big things. Obviously, not so much if we are just going to be carrying all the weight by ourselves. But we come together, and we join others, then we can do great things,” Bishop Menjivar said.