"Service and presence is very important. I want to be of help, I want to be there to support my people and provide them with encouragement," Bishop-elect Cruz explained. "I am here for everyone."
Msgr. Cruz's episcopal ordination on Sept. 8 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart will be the culmination of his years of service. Ordained as the first Cuban-born priest in the archdiocese, he became chaplain at Saint Michael's Medical Center and was named director of the archdiocese's Office of Pastoral Care in 2003. Three years ago, he was appointed vice president for mission and ministry for Catholic Health and Human Services, the healthcare and social services arm of the archdiocese.
Passionate about healthcare, Bishopelect Cruz gleaned valuable lessons that will impact his work as a bishop. "It was a great privilege for me to work with the sick and dying," he said. "It was rewarding for me. You see the face of Christ in these people. I have seen tremendous gratitude for my presence. Even patients on respirators offered a 'thank you.' I learned that death is imminent and what really matters is a sense of faith."
Seeing patients close to death has made Msgr. Cruz appreciate life and accept things he cannot change. "I learned to surrender and that when everything is defeated, hope gets you through. These patients live the Passion and the Resurrection. Witnessing their faith has taught me what priesthood is," Bishopelect Cruz explained.
In his position as Episcopal Vicar of Union County, he plans to familiarize himself with the community in order to better serve the people. Just sitting down with the parishioners and having a cup of coffee while making his presence known is important to the newly appointed bishop.
"I have no grandiose project (as bishop). I just plan to infiltrate myself into the community and walk with them. I want to visit the priests and laity and have them know who I am on a personal, individual level. I am here to service them."
As Episcopal Vicar for the Hispanic Apostolate, his background as a Cuban refugee undoubtedly will shape how he deals with the growing Hispanic Catholic population. He attended public school in Union City and graduated with a bachelor's degree in philosophy and master's degree in Sacred Scripture at Seton Hall University, South Orange. Msgr. Cruz studied for the priesthood at Immaculate Conception Seminary, Darlington.
His childhood in Cuba and experience as an immigrant helps Msgr. Cruz commiserate with the Hispanic community in the archdiocese, especially in Newark and Elizabeth. "The immigrants in the area are struggling with a language barrier and are sometimes separated from their families in their home countries. I don't want anyone to feel alone or abandoned."
Fleeing communist Cuba at a young age, Msgr. Cruz is proud of his title as "refugee" and believes that living through the experience has strengthened him and deepened his faith. He recently arranged for medicine to be shipped to the island for a sick young woman. "The medicine is expensive and hard to get in Cuba. This situation really put things in perspective for me. You ask yourself 'Why am I here? Why am I so different?' As a refugee, you realize that everything you have is a gift."
Msgr. Cruz is indebted to the religious communities in the archdiocese who offer him prayers and continue to serve the community. As a young boy in Cuba, he was greatly influenced by the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul and still has a connection with the religious.
"I am grateful for the Dominican nuns and friars at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit. I am grateful for their prayers," he said. "Prayer and surrender to God's will is essential and is a continuing source of hope. We are all followers of Christ. We are all in the same boat."
At Saint Michael's Hospital, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, who reside at Most Blessed Sacrament Friary in Newark, would visit patients, especially those without families. Bishop-elect Cruz was in awe of their dedication and spirit. "The Franciscan novices recognized Christ in the sick and they had such a commitment to follow Christ. They brought Christmas gifts for AIDS patients and prayed for them."
He emotionally recalled one night when the friars sang Christmas carols to a bedridden patient. "One of the novices held sheet music for a patient and she sang ' Silent Night' for the first time. She felt loved and accepted. She felt like a human being. That is what (our work) is all about- lifting people up. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ."
Bishop-elect Cruz is constantly inspired by the faithful in the community and the people he will serve. In his new position as auxiliary bishop, he intends to share his humble spirit with the archdiocese. "I am just a human being. I don't have any new ideas or concepts. It is just about being a priest to the fullest for people in need. The Lord wants to use my gifts to serve the community. This is not about me; it is about the Lord using me to do His will."
Msgr. Cruz views his new assignment as an even greater way in which to serve others. "This is not a promotion; it is a calling. My hope is to respond at every turn to God's will."