Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Phoenix Rising... Tyler, Too

Another Tuesday morning… and, with it, another Roman milestone for the booming Southwestern church.

Come this weekend, the diocese of Tyler -- home to just under 100,000 Catholics -- will be ordaining another sky-high crop of six transitional deacons. But in an unprecedented nod to the 33-county East Texas diocese -- long regarded as one of the nation's most dynamic local churches -- Pope Benedict has named Fr Eduardo Nevares, 56, heretofore vice-rector of Columbus' Pontifical College Josephinum, as auxiliary bishop of Phoenix, now home to a Catholic population in excess of 700,000 (double its 1990 size).

Born in San Antonio and ordained for the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Sallette, the bishop-elect only incardinated into the Tyler diocese in 2007, but has spent most of his three-decade priesthood serving in close-knit East Texas, both in parishes and vocation work. Nevares was named to the Ohio post in 2008, heading up the Josephinum's College of Liberal Arts.

Now the nation's fifth-largest city, the appointment gives Phoenix its first-ever auxiliary bishop. Just as notably, the appointment of the bench's 29th active Latino member comes amid a national fight over a controversial Arizona law requiring immigrant documentation, which has been protested by the state's bishops, the US bishops and outspoken voices on all sides of the ecclesial aisle.

At the hand of his new boss -- Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted, a former Josephinum rector and onetime staffer in the Secretariat of State -- Nevares will be ordained in July.

Still, as noted above, this morning's appointment is but the latest sign of Rome's concerted spotlight on the Lone Star State, where Catholics surpassed Baptists at mid-decade to become Texas' largest religious grouping.

In 2004, a second archdiocese was created at Galveston-Houston -- where, just three years later, Pope Benedict tapped the American South's first-ever cardinal -- twin auxiliaries were ordained in Dallas just earlier this month, 2010's already seen the key openings of Austin and Brownsville filled with rising stars (and, in Corpus Christi, a bishop of Benedict's own choosing), and, of course, in early April the head of the state's senior metropolitan church, Archbishop José Gomez of San Antonio, became the first non-Californian in nearly seven decades named to lead the 5 million-member archdiocese of Los Angeles, and the first Hispanic prelate placed in the US church's top rank as a cardinal-in-waiting.

Set to inherit the leadership of more American Catholics than any Stateside prelate in history -- and an administrative challenge of equal scope -- Gomez's Mass of Welcome in LA takes place two weeks from tomorrow.

According to early word, over 100 bishops will be in attendance, and the 4,000-seat capacity of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels will be stretched to its limit.