Cardinal-Elect Has Ties to Queens Parish

Tags: Currents, Cardinals, Diocese of Brooklyn, Pope Francis, Queens, NY, Rockaway, Rome, Vatican

By Tim Harfmann

The historic, red-hat announcement by Pope Francis on September 1 hit home for Catholics in the Brooklyn diocese.

“I went through the list and I stopped when I saw Ramazzini. I said, ‘I know him!” said Father James Cunningham.

Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini Imeri of Guatemala is one of 13 newly elevated cardinals. He has a connection to the Brooklyn diocese, making visits here each year to St. Mary Star of the Sea and St. Gertrude parish.

Father Cunningham is the former pastor of that parish in Far Rockaway, Queens.

It’s a community with a large Guatemalan population.

“When he came here, it was like Guatemala was coming to them,” said Father Cunningham. “To let them know that they weren’t forgotten.”

“[We are] very happy because he is a wonderful person,” said Emma and Mario Chavarria, parishioners who are thrilled to hear the news

They are immigrants from Guatemala themselves and are close to Bishop Ramazzini.

Emma and Mario said the bishop’s message to the diocese of Brooklyn was always full of hope for migrants looking for better lives.

“A lot of people don’t have work, they don’t have food. That is why a lot of people come here,” said Emma. “The people cried because of how [Bishop Ramazzini] was speaking. The people felt him.”

The bishop would celebrate a special Mass every year in Queens. Though his visits were short, he felt close to the parish.

When Father Cunningham underwent a kidney transplant, Bishop Ramazzini sent his well wishes.

“I was taken back that the call came from Guatemala,” he said. “[Bishop Ramazzini] took the time to call and reach out because he said he never forgot the great times we had when he visited Far Rockaway.”

In his new position, the 72-year-old bishop will be eligible to vote for future popes in closed-door conclaves — since he is under the age of 80.

The new cardinals will be installed on October 5. Father Cunningham sent his congratulations.

“I wrote him a note and mailed it to Guatemala. I don’t know how long it will take to get there, but I told him that we were so happy and Rockaway was rejoicing!”