As part of their One to One Learning ministry, which provides supportive services to Latino, Haitian and other immigrants in Rockland County, the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill celebrated Three Kings’ Day (“Día de los Reyes Magos”) on January 6. In doing so, they joined millions of Hispanic families across the world who mark the Feast of the Epiphany on the 12th day of Christmas commemorating the adoration of Baby Jesus by the wise men (magi) from the East who followed the rising star to Bethlehem in search of the Infant King of the Jews, “The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:10-11)
In Spain and Hispanic countries, including Latin America, the festivities of the Feast of Epiphany range from elaborate parades depicting the visit of the wise men (Kings) to the Holy Family, to lush dinners that include traditional baked goods, such as the “Rosca de Reyes,” a round sweet bread representing a King’s crown. In the United States, thousands of Americans of Hispanic descent, and Hispanic immigrants have held on to their much-loved Three Kings’ Day holiday as a reminder of the Christ attributes implicit in the Kings’ gifts: gold, a coveted precious metal, alludes to Jesus’ royalty; frankincense, an essential element in sacrifices to God in the Old Testament, acknowledges Jesus’ divinity; and myrrh, the aromatic anointing oil used in biblical times to embalm bodies for burial, foreshadows Jesus’ death.
The One to One Learning Three Kings’ Day celebration honored the cultural diversity that immigrants contribute to the enrichment of our Catholic tradition, capturing the spirit of the Catholic Church’s National Migration Week 2020 (January 5 – 11). Dozens of immigrant families, volunteer teachers, and benefactors gathered at the Marydell Faith and Life Center in Nyack bringing food and cheer to the celebration. Children carrying figurines representing the Three Kings and Baby Jesus joined in procession and placed them on the nativity scene. Mothers and their small children followed the procession bringing flowers, while attendees sang “Noche de Paz” (“Silent Night”). Gifts from generous donors brought joy to all children and adults in attendance.
It was an animated celebration filled with good will, music, and hope. It was also an inevitable reminder of the thousands of immigrant and refugee children who have been separated from their parents in the United States. Above all, the Three Kings’ Day holiday revolves around households’ little ones. Similar to leaving cookies and milk for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, many Hispanic families leave grass and water for the wise men’s camels on the eve of Three Kings’ Day. Blades of grass left behind by the camels as they quietly exit homes lead children to gifts in the morning, while parents wake up to excited accounts of the discovery of presents, whether humble or extravagant, delivered by the very same magi that visited Baby Jesus in Bethlehem.
As she led celebration attendees in prayer, One to One’s founder Sister Cecilia LaPietra acknowledged that the joy and wonder that brings families together on Three Kings’ Day has escaped thousands of unaccompanied children in detention centers, and parents who remain in Mexico while they await their asylum hearings. She prayed for migrant families to be reunited and for our country to extend Jesus’ love and compassion to immigrants and refugees.
During this year’s National Migration Week, themed “Promoting a Church and a World for All,” the Church reminds us that, whether recently or in the distant past, each of our families has a migration story and that, regardless of our origin, we are part of the human family and are called to engage migrants as community members, neighbors and friends. We can do this as individuals, by exploring venues to help, such as foster care for unaccompanied immigrants and refugees, or by supporting programs, such as One to One Learning, which aims to build bridges of understanding among persons of different cultural backgrounds.
Since 1997, One to One Learning has helped empower immigrants in Rockland County to reach their full potential, not only for their individual improvement, but also for the improvement of the communities where they live. One to One volunteers provide English tutorial programs, including ESL and GED; computing classes; citizenship education; advocacy and immigration counseling; transportation to classes; reading readiness activities and homework assistance for children; cultural events highlighting the ethnicity of students and teachers; job placement; linkage to social services; information on housing and fair housing practices; and emergency food and clothing, among other services.
One to One Learning underscores the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill’s long-standing commitment to those who come to the United States seeking our help. During a recent visit to the U.S. border, the Sisters welcomed immigrants and refugees who fled their countries to escape unspeakable violence, a shattering reality that the Holy Family once faced, shortly after the wise men from the East ended their visit. “After they [wise men] had left, suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’ So, Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt.” (Matthew 2:13-14)
For more than 140 years, the Sisters have embraced and helped immigrants and refugees from Italy, Ireland, Bosnia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Russia, Ethiopia, South and Central America, Mexico, and Haiti.
The Dominican Sisters of Sparkill acknowledge and thank the following groups who made One to One Learning’s Three Kings’ Day gift giving to children and adults possible:
St. John the Baptist Church, Piermont, NY
St. Ann Church, Nyack, NY
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church, Tappan, NY
St. Francis of Assisi Church, West Nyack, NY
Albertus Magnus High School, Bardonia, NY
St. Anthony School, Nanuet, NY
St. Thomas Aquinas College, Sparkill, NY
Romanesque Lodge, Blauvelt, NY