Wednesday, January 10, 2007

On the Lakeside

Going a bit beyond the canonical provision of 60 days -- "So Levada can attend?" one wonders -- Bishop John Wester will be installed as Utah Catholicism's ninth head on March 14th in one of the nation's most stunning cathedral churches.

While the bishop-elect of Salt Lake City admitted en espaƱol that he's "trying to master" Spanish at Monday's press conference, one Latino layman in the diocese is rapturously en fuego that the appointee isn't a native speaker...
William Gonzalez was adamant that Utah's next Catholic bishop should be Latino himself.

So when the emeritus Spanish professor at the University of Utah learned Monday that the Rev. John Wester would be taking the helm, he didn't hold back his feelings.

"He has to be Hispanic. He has to be fluent in Spanish," Gonzalez, 65, said. "People are going to be very upset, and there's going to be trouble."

The number of Latinos in Utah has exploded since 1990, when there were fewer than 85,000 in the state. Today, according to some scholars, that figure well exceeds 300,000. And of those who identify with a religion, at least 80 percent call themselves Catholic.

Given the statistics, Gonzalez said of the latest news: "This is slapping the Hispanic community right in the face."
That may have been the lede, but its sentiments weren't reflected a lick by the others quoted:
Jorge Arce-Larreta, vice president of the Utah Coalition of La Raza, sees Wester's experience working with a large Latino population in San Francisco as a blessing.

"I'm very excited that a new Catholic bishop has finally been named," said Arce-Larreta. Wester has dealt "with Hispanic Catholic needs," and "I know he speaks some Spanish."

And if what the Rev. Omar Ontiveros gleaned from Wester on Monday is any indication, things will only get better.

"I wasn't expecting a Latino bishop perhaps as other people were, but my reaction was very positive," said Ontiveros, who has been at the Cathedral of the Madeleine for about six months. "He saw the growing Hispanic population as a gift for the Catholic church."