The day after the auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark was struck down by a random attacker during Mass at Newark's Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Newark's Latinos came out in force to honor two icons of their community: the late baseball great Roberto Clemente and the Most Reverend Manuel A. Cruz.
The tone after the attack on Cruz was not one of fear and fury. Instead, the message was one of faith and forgiveness.
"Blessed are those who mess up, for they know not what they do," said Rev. Paul Donohue before a crowd of 150 people inside of Saint Lucy's Church in Newark, a few blocks away from the cathedral, the scene of the shocking and unforeseen attack on Cruz. "Today is the day that we have to live like Roberto Clemente. We need to re-create the world around us so that love is greater than hate, so that compassion is stronger than violence."
A jarring vision of violence played out before the altar of the cathedral on Saturday as Cruz commenced celebrating an annual commemorative Mass for Clemente, remembered by Latinos in Newark, especially those from his native Puerto Rico, for his tragic death in a plane crash en route to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua in 1972.
The sanctity of the mass was shattered when a man wearing a white robe over a red suit shambled up to the altar from the crowd, reached Bishop Cruz and struck the 63-year-old in the face, knocking him backwards until he fell on the altar.
TAPintoNewark witnessed the assailant's apprehension after several Essex County's Sheriff's police officers ran onto the altar and handcuffed the man.
One officer at the scene who saw Cruz after he was struck commented to another officer that several of the bishop's teeth had been loosened in the attack.
Bishop Cruz is now back at the cathedral residence on Ridge Street in Newark after receiving medical attention and is resting, according to Jim Goodness, spokesman for the Newark Archdiocese.
The assailant, identified by law enforcement authorities as Charles Miller, has been charged with one count of aggravated assault and is being held at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, according to Thomas S. Fennelly, Essex County's first assistant prosecutor, whose office is now in charge of the ongoing investigation.
Fennelly declined to offer any motive for the attack, but said that Miller's first court appearance would be next week.
Newark Councilman-at-large Luis Quintana, who organized the mass, which was sponsored by Mayor Ras Baraka and the City Council, gave the incident perspective when he addressed the crowd.
“What happened yesterday is a test of our community,” Quintana said. “In the house of the Lord, there’s a place called respect. But we were able to survive that test.”
Mayor Baraka said that the attack on Cruz at the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, now led by the recently installed, high-profile Cardinal Joseph Tobin, should give Newarkers pause, but not lead to panic.
“We have to be vigilant and security conscious,” Baraka said. “We don’t want to turn this into a police state, or let these types of people disrupt us. We can’t do that.”
Roberto Clemente’s life means many things for Puerto Ricans around the world.
He was a champion. A hero. A martyr. A saint. A servant of God.
"Roberto Clemente, besides being a legendary Hall of Famer on the baseball field, is a modern-day example for all of our professional athletes," said North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos. "He's about having a greater purpose and giving back to the community that's provided so much to you."
For the Puerto Ricans of Newark, the Cuban-born Cruz has served his flock well. That’s why in Cruz’s time of crisis, they rallied to another servant of God.
“We all give back to the community, but Bishop Cruz is beloved. He’s a man of the cloth and a man of the community,” said Luis A. Maisonave, president of the Liga Roberto Clemente de Newark, a Little League baseball organization based in Newark’s largely-Latino North Ward.
“I was there when he was attacked, and I was angry," Maisonave said. "But after what happened, Clemente, being the man that he was, would have found a way to unite the community. Now, I’m at peace.”