In 2008, 37 year-old Ecuadoran immigrant Marcelo Lucero approached an intersection near his home on Long Island. He was confronted by a gang of teens who admitted they regularly targeted Hispanic immigrants. They called the altercations “beaner hopping.” Lucero was walking with a friend when the teens began yelling ethnic slurs and approached them. Lucero hit Jeffrey Conroy, then 17, in the head with a belt. Conroy lost his temper, took out a folding knife and fatally plunged it into Lucero’s chest.
And now, presidential candidate hopeful Donald Trump, whose often hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric has been a cornerstone of his campaign, has planned a rally near where Lucero was attacked and and killed. In the years since, racial tensions have eased, but many worry that this campaign event would re-open old wounds and roll back much of the progress that has been made.
Among those concerned is Bishop Lawrence C. Provenzano, the bishop of Long Island who joined others calling for Suffolk Republicans to cancel a fundraising event featuring Donald Trump. At the same time, immigrant groups warned that the event at the Emporium nightclub and concert venue Thursday would incite further violence against Latinos and strengthen the forces of bigotry and racism.
In a pastoral letter “to the diocese and especially to immigrant families,” Bishop Provenzano writes;
I write to assure you that in the face of the reckless and hateful attitudes portrayed by some in this political season, there are many more people of good will and faith that stand with you against the toxic, irresponsible rhetoric of some of the candidates for president.
Specifically, you should know that the planned fundraiser by the Republican Party in Suffolk County featuring Donald Trump, just yards away from the scene of the 2008 murder of Marcelo Lucero, will not go unmet by people of prayer and good will.
Anticipating complaints about the church imposing itself into the political arena (as candidate Trump complained in remarks about Pope Francis earlier this year), the bishop responded;
Let me be clear then, my focus is not the political process or the endorsement of any candidate, but rather the exercise of my role as a bishop of the church, to protect God’s people and especially those in my diocese.
It is my job to oppose evil, ignorance, and sin. This planned “political event” in Patchogue meets all three criteria. Either the organizers are ignorant of the days when there appeared to be open season on immigrants—especially day-workers and their families—or the entire event is designed to reignite the hatred that existed and use it for political gain. Either way, you should know that the church stands with you. And we will continue to stand with you, as in the past, against the ignorance and violence of those who focus on hate and seek to draw others into their fear of people who are different from themselves.
What do you think? Is there a proper role for the church to claim a voice in the political realm to call out and oppose evil, ignorance and sin? Less than a week ago, the church marked the feast day of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose opposition to the Nazi’s in Germany led to his execution. What costs are we as church and as individuals willing to bear?
For more on this story see this article in Newsday