Somos el Cuerpo de Cristo
Thoughts from Some Fellow Parishioners of Holy Spirit—July 23, 2006
┼John Joseph Fitzpatrick….
I will never forget the first time I met him at a diocesan hearing session for planning in Edinburg. It was November 1st, 1981. We spent the entire morning sharing our responses to three simple questions: What do we like, what don’t we like, and what would we like to see happen. After lunch he had an open forum with the people. People were complaining about not having funds and not having priests. And then it happened, and I knew my life in the Church of Brownsville would be OK. Bishop answered, “I am tired of asking the Bishops north of here for money and priests. We are a poor diocese and we need to learn how to live like we are poor. And, I am tired of asking for priests. The Church is the people, and it is in the people that we need to invest.”
From those hearing sessions came the Diocesan Mission Statement, goals, planning office (chaired by Sr. Marian), diocesan pastoral council, a workable diocesan grievance board (composed of priests, women religious, and laity), and the development of three major divisions. He already had begun the lay ministry/deaconate training program, computerized the fiscal office, and established a pension fund for the employees.
He later would add Pastoral Administrator Training (He wanted a Pastoral Administrator in every parish whether they had a resident priest or not. He wanted to free the priest up to do his priestly duties.), Project Rachel, the Loyola Institute for Ministry, support of Comfort House, Holy Family Birthing Center, Casa Oscar Romero, Military Highway Water Project, Clinica del Valle, and Valley Interfaith.
He attended almost every convention for the United Farm Workers, joined Cesar Chavez for the last leg of the march for wages to Brownsville in 1982, risking being arrested by his own deacons on the steps of the federal court house. Fitz was the first Bishop in the United States to endorse the grape boycott. He stood with us in front of the Detention Center in Los Fresnos protesting immigration policies. He was in court each day with Stacey Merkt and Jack Elder each time they were on trial. We used to joke that he didn’t wear a pectoral cross because he carried a big cross on his back.
He would not allow a priest into the seminary program unless they admitted they could work with women and valued the laity. And 'with' was the key word. He didn’t want people to work for him, but with him. He was an active member of the Texas Conference of Churches, which continues to give out the Fitzpatrick Award for work in justice each year. He certainly did not have the support of all the clergy, or the politically and religiously right wing element of the Church. But he never waned from supporting laity and women, being one of the first Bishops to have a woman chancellor. And three out of the first four pastoral administrators he appointed were women, including one laywoman.
Fitzpatrick told me many times how much he loved the people at Holy Spirit Parish and was so proud of all that we had accomplished. He would brag about us all the time. He was here for our 10th and 20th anniversary. We loved him as well and he was the recipient of our first Peace and Justice Affirmation Award in 1989. And, he stood by his clergy even when they were arrested for transporting submachine guns to Mexico, he stood by them when he confronted them lovingly to get treatment for pedophilia, alcoholism, anorexia, or sex addictions. He stood by them when they were dying of AIDS. He stood by them when they came to him admitting they had fallen in love and were leaving the priesthood. He always called them brothers not sons. He stood by us all.
It was apparent by the numbers who came from far and near to pay their last respects to him that whitewashing over his picture at Casa Romero could not erase the legacy of this man. His final gift of his priestly stole to his friend Sr. Adrian Claire said it all. Praise God he gave us a taste of a Post Vatican II Church, something we may never again experience in our lifetime.
As they wheeled his coffin down the aisle for the last time it occurred to me that this was the first time he left the altar area and did not come down to a chorus of applause. We were all using our hands to wipe away the tears. To quote John Shea, “Fitzpatrick’s crozier was as lean as a prophet's staff and his ring fit the finger of everyone.”
¡Viva Fitzpatrick! From a fellow parishioner.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
“He was a quiet, simple man who served the Church with fidelity and steadfastness.” Bishop Peña on Bishop John J. Fitzpatrick [who died on July 15th]
“He [Fitzpatrick] believed in helping people. Sometimes it was not the popular thing to do, but he believed it was the right thing to do.” Brenda Nettles Riojas, Diocese of Brownsville spokesperson
After Fitzpatrick stepped down (in 1992), the Diocese phased out Casa Oscar Romero, a center he had established that took in Central Americans fleeing from civil strife in their own countries. based on a McAllen Monitor report, July 16, 2006.
Sister Joan Chittister uses the analogy of an oyster for the church and our faith life as well. During spawning season, sand invades oysters and the oysters emit a gel to try to keep out the sand. The end of this process is the creation of the pearl. Without the opening up and the success of the irritation of the sand, the oyster remains only an oyster. The oyster only becomes more valuable, only discovers the treasure it can hold and produce when the sand can claim its place in the oyster.
And so it goes for our church and our hearts. Our church will remain shut up tight and unable to discover the treasure it holds unless it can open up to God’s will—even the parts that are challenging and discomforting. Jesus was constantly a grain of sand, rocking the boat and upsetting the status quo. As the “stone the builders rejected,” Jesus continually refocuses our attention to God’ will and God’s love. We are continually challenged as a Church and in our hearts to find the treasure that results from embracing the uncomfortable.
Submitted by fellow parishioner, Michelle Peña
According to the Sunday bulletins, since 10/16/05 parishioners have donated $61,852.32 less than the $580,000 the parish budget has called for (this includes an estimate for the weekend of April 2, since no data was ever reported for that date). If the spending patterns of the last fiscal year have continued (13.4% over budget), then this gives a total of $139,542.72 of red ink (versus budget) for the period 10/16/05 to 7/16/06. Stretching that pattern for an entire year, the Parish would fall short by $181,405.53.
The Eucharistic Community
We bring our entire lives to the Eucharistic table each Sunday. In a special way, we bring to that table the work we do with and for our parish community. When we minister and when we witness the Gospel, whether to each other within the Parish or within the larger community with our fellow parishioners, we are acting as a Eucharistic Community, which is affirmed and strengthened by our sacramental meal, which unites us to the saving work of Christ, His death and resurrection.
To say to a parishioner that they can come to Mass but are not allowed to participate in any other parish ministry is a direct contradiction of the very meaning of the Eucharistic celebration. Aside from being personally hurtful to people and harmful to the effectiveness of parish ministries, such an edict creates a disconnect and a disunity that can best be described as sacrilegious.
Exclusionary practices based on prejudice, personal animus, misinformation, etc. are more than unjust, they are a violation of the most fundamental foundation of the Church—the Eucharistic Community.
Prepared by RGV Parishioners for Progress and edited by Jerry Brazier. Copy this, and pass it on to fellow parishioners, either by e-mail or paper. If you want an opportunity for prayerful discussion of these and other issues about the parish or have any other comments, please contact us at mailto:email@example.com
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