Monday, March 08, 2010

In Austin, "Crossover" Day

Later this week, the mother of all indie music festivals -- South by Southwest -- opens for the 24th time in Austin... today, however, sees an ecclesial opening act in Texas' capital: the installation of its new bishop.

Slated to begin at 2pm Central (2000 GMT) the rites welcoming Bishop Joe Vasquez take place against the backdrop of a rapidly-growing Austin church, its current membership of over 500,000 more than twice its 1990 size, and projected to double again within the next 15 to 20 years. While much of the boom owes itself to the migration born of Central Texas' ascent as a hub of technology and commerce (and the home-base of Whole Foods), an infusion of mission-driven energy alongside the growth has added a special exuberance to the place, making the diocese a national hotspot for vocations of every sort, topped out by some 50 seminarians currently in formation and enough ordinations over recent years that its prior shepherd, now-Archbishop Greg Aymond of New Orleans, had the rare perk of telling priests applying for incardination that he had nowhere to station them.

The second of the recent "Texas triangle" of dioceses to be filled, the Austin nod fell in January to a prelate widely cited as a rising star. Now 52, Vasquez became the youngest member of the US bench on his 2002 ordination as an auxiliary of Galveston-Houston, then spent the last four years running the booming H-Town shop as Cardinal Daniel DiNardo's vicar-general.

Given the continuing waves of Hispanics coming to these shores -- and likely to become the majority bloc of the nation's 68 million Catholics within the next two decades -- the appointment to Austin highlighted Vasquez among the group of prelates possessing what's arguably the most-sought quality for no shortage of openings these days: the "crossover" abilities that result from being American-born, Hispanic-bred, Rome-trained and able to fluently engage all sides of the ecclesial divide, both ethnically and beyond.

The first Hispanic named to the Austin post, Vasquez notably comes to the leg of the "triangle" with the lowest percentage of Latinos among the recently-filled trio (some 35-40%, according to the curia there). Still, considering the traditional lead role of the capital bishop on the church's engagement with state government, the move can be considered a Roman move to highlight the community's role in the rise of Catholicism in Texas, now home to the nation's third-largest Catholic population by state after California and New York, alongside three of the Stateside church's 15 largest sees (Galveston-Houston, Dallas and Brownsville).

With St Mary's Cathedral too small to fit the invited crowd, a recently-dedicated, traditionally-designed 2,000-seat parish church will be hosting today's Mass, which'll be livestreamed through the diocesan page. For more on the nominee, recent weeks saw Vasquez profiled extensively in Austin's American-Statesman.

And lastly, the final of the three Texas rites takes place on the 25th's Annunciation Day with the ordination and installation of Bishop-elect Michael Mulvey of Corpus Christi.

Until today, Mulvey has served as administrator of the Austin church.

SVILUPPO:Lest anyone missed it the first time, our friends at CatholicTV will be re-airing today's Mass at 8pm Eastern tonight (livefeed), then keeping it on-demand in their archive of "cathedral events" from around the country.

PHOTO: Kelly West/Austin American-Statesman