Tuesday, February 02, 2010

South Texas... Center Stage

A week after its third and final appointee emerged, the "Texas triangle" begins taking charge tonight with Bishop Daniel Flores' installation in Brownsville -- the largest and, arguably, most challenging of the three dioceses recently filled in the Lone Star state.

In a rare evening inaugural, the 6pm Central (0000GMT) Mass at the Mission Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle -- chosen for its ability to accommodate hundreds more than the Border Country's Immaculate Conception Cathedral -- will be webstreamed... and is well worth watching, for even more reasons than usual.

As for the "why" behind that, something exceptional, something unique, is worth noting here…

...but not that, at 45, Flores was among the youngest American bishops to be named in the two decades prior to his 2006 appointment as an auxiliary of Detroit… nor that he's the first Stateside auxiliary picked by Benedict XVI to be advanced to a diocese of his own… not even that, well, it's quite a diocese -- over a million Catholics at Texas' southernmost point, 86% of the area's total population, half of them under age 25… nor that the next-youngest head of one of the nation's 15 largest local churches is the 59 year-old archbishop of New York.

Each of these are significant and should tell you something, so add it up. Yet not even these, nor his gifts of language, memory or poetry are the most telling thing… nor that he was made a monsignor at 33, can quote Thomas, Tolkien and Sinatra verbatim and with equal ease… and the list could go on, and on, and on.

Much as all that is considerable, the standout is this: that over the years, folks as disparate as Latin Mass-goers in his adopted Motor City and Pax Christi-types in his native Corpus Christi -- and no shortage of others in between -- have spoken of the 48 year-old prelate with the same conspicuously fervent degrees of admiration and affection.

In a church too often needlessly -- and dangerously -- divided in seemingly every possible way into "us" versus "them," all the other attributes are far easier to find… and dare it be said, the latter just as soundly outshines all the rest.

No mean accomplishment, that -- and no wonder that, even before the surprising Brownsville nod dropped in December, one of Flores' Corpus confreres wrote in to say that "the whole country is now witnessing what we've known of him for years."

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On a related note, it didn't take long after mentioning today's installation during Saturday's livefeed to find everyone's favorite question drop in from the gallery: "Is Flores conservative or liberal?"

Admittedly, it was tempting to answer in the moment, and the first response that came to mind was the chief's beloved line… the thing that this whole church (that's you and me, folks) is called to be: in a word, he's "simply Catholic."

That said, we've found an even better answer: last April, Flores' addressed a group of parish planners... and, luckily, someone ran a camera for the whole thing.

Suffice it to say, just watch:

[Due to technical difficulties, the embed has been removed... video's here.]

It is Presentation Day, folks... and appropriately enough on it, the shining qualities South Texans have "known for years" begin to make their mark on the future of the American church.

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On a final note, tonight's rites likewise end one of the country's longest-standing episcopates: ordained an auxiliary of San Antonio in 1976 (at the young age of 42), Brownsville's departing Bishop Raymundo Peña finally reaches a well-earned, "happy retirement"... but one where he's still planning to keep busy.

In a farewell from the chair he's held since 1995, Peña announced his plans to become chaplain to the diocese's community of Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, in addition to regular duties as a confessor and aiding the local jail ministry.

"I cannot be truly happy if I am not doing what a priest does," the retiring prelate wrote.

"I was ordained 'a priest forever'; I will happily exercise my priestly ministry all the days of my life."

Especially as the livefeeds kept going haywire, here below, Flores' English fulltext for tonight's Mass, as prepared for delivery.

On an editor's note, with the prepared preach evenly divided between English and Spanish, the bracketed sections indicate those passages translated from the latter where the former didn't already echo it.

That said, all emphases original:

On a crowd note, the evening rites saw an exceptionally large throng show up -- some 2,000 packed into the San Juan basilica, and at least another 2,000 watched on screens set up in a large tent outside.

Ramps were closed, parking lots overfilled, and the event was said to have provided a boost to the local economy.

As starts go, not bad at all.

Joel Martinez/The Monitor(2,3)