Bishop Kopacz makes pilgrimage to Saltillo

By Monsignor Michael Flannery

MADISON – There is a Spanish phrase “que pasa?” (what’s happening?). In a way, it sums up the pastoral visit Bishop Joseph Kopacz and I made to the Saltillo Mission March 30 -April 3.

We can report that the good work begun by Father Patrick Quinn in 1969 is flourishing south of the border. There are two Mexican priests serving at the mission, Fathers David and Elevio. Both have a profound missionary spirit and they follow in the footsteps of Father Quinn.

We flew into Monterrey, Mexico, on Thursday, March 30. Father David was there to greet us and bring us to the mission about two hours away. He had a full schedule prepared for us. Our first visit was to the church of Cristo Rey (in the city of Saltillo) at 6:00 p.m. It is one of four churches in town served by San Miguel. The other three are; the Holy Martyrs, St. William and Christ the King. We visited other churches in the city the next day.

Saturday we set out for the village Jalapa where the villagers gathered to greet the Bishop from Mississippi. After a prayer service with the rancheros and the distribution of bags of cornmeal we set out for the village of Animas where we shared another meal with the villagers. At 2:00 p.m. we were on the road again to our most distant village of El Tapon, five hours away. There we greeted the people and Bishop Kopacz was asked to bless the seeds of corn and pinto beans to be used for sowing. Also, he was asked to bless the two goat herds. Many coyotes attack and kill the young kid goats and the blessing of the bishop was to provide protection.

After the blessing, Bishop Kopacz was offered a kid goat as a gift. I explained to the kind lady making the offer we would only be in the country five days and were forbidden to bring a goat back with us to the U.S. Instead she offered Bishop Kopacz a package of tortillas which he graciously accepted.

The next morning we went to the village of Garambullo, where we were greeted by a presentation of Aztec dancing before Mass. Father David showed us the new tin roof he had put on the church. Many of the churches in the mountain villages are in bad need of repair. An average roof on a mountain village church costs about $3,000. I had brought a suitcase full of T-shirts, a gift from Madison St. Anthony School. It was amazing to see the joy in these childrens faces as they received them. I also had brought with me 500 ball-point pens which I selectively distributed to other children telling them the pen was a gift of Bishop Kopacz.

When we arrived at La Ventura about 500 villagers were completing a live way of the cross. It was a very moving site. Because of their Mexican heritage and culture, the people relate very well to the suffering Christ. Bishop Kopacz was again front and center celebrating Mass and administering the sacrament of Confirmation.

After Mass, we had a delicious lunch with the villagers. Father David showed Bishop Kopacz a building attached to the church, consisting of two rooms, where it would be possible to house catechists who spend weekends training village catechists and performing missions throughout the year. He had plans to add another floor to the existing two rooms as La Ventura was a central village from where 6 other villages could be served.

It was now time to head back to Saltillo for dinner with the Bishop of Saltillo Don Raul Vera. Bishop Vera was very gracious and Bishop Kopacz shared with him his Pastoral Priorities and Vision for the Diocese of Jackson. The following morning, we shared a light breakfast with Father David and Father Evelio. Both priests are great visionaries and are addressing the needs of the people. Another example of their thinking outside the box, is a project now in its infancy.

San Miguel has become home to four students coming from mountain villages who cannot afford room and board while studying at the university. In exchange for room and board they accompany the priests during the weekend in their ministry in the ranchos. This project costs approximately $2,500 per student, however, that is where the church needs to be offering its services to those in need and changing the lives of people for the better.

Another worthy program at San Miguel is the catechetical program. Young catechists are brought in from remote villages to stay at San Miguel for a week or two during the summer. The rancheros are very moved by this experience. For the first time in their lives they have meals served to them by someone else. Also, they have the experience of taking a shower. That is not an option in the ranchos. It is a different world there at San Miguel.

I would like to end with one quick story. There was one four-year-old girl in Saltillo who got my last St. Anthony T-shirt. She was so excited with her new found treasure she would not take it off. The T-shirt would have fit a child of 12. It was so long it came down to her ankles. Her mother told me later that she would not take it off even to go to bed and she used it as her night gown. I also gave her the St. Anthony golf cap I was wearing. She even wore it to bed she was so overcome with joy with her gift. I can assure you that the people of Saltillo are most appreciative of all that Mississippians do for them and they wanted us to express their gratitude to you.

(Editor’s note: Msgr. Flannery is working on a book detailing the history of the Saltillo mission. a longer version of this story with details of all the rancho visits is available online at www.mississippicatholic.com)

Visita pastoral del Obispo Kopacz a la Misión de Saltillo

Por el Monseñor Michael Flannery

La frase “¿Qué pasa?” resume la visita pastoral que el Obispo Joseph Kopacz y yo hicimos a la Misión de Saltillo, México el 30 de marzo al 3 de abril. Podemos informar que el buen trabajo iniciado por el padre Patrick Quinn en 1969 está floreciendo. Los dos sacerdotes mexicanos que sirven en la misión, padres Davíd y Elevio, tienen espíritus misioneros profundos y están siguiendo los pasos del Padre Quinn.
El padre David, armado con un horario completo, nos saludó en Monterrey y nos llevó a la misión de Saltillo. Nuestra primera visita fue a la iglesia de Cristo Rey, una de las iglesias en la ciudad servida por San Miguel. Visitamos los otros, Los Santos Mártires y San Guillermo, al día siguiente.

El sábado, viajamos a Jalapa, donde los aldeanos se reunieron para saludar al obispo. Después de un servicio de oración con los rancheros y la distribución de bolsas de harina de maíz, fuimos al pueblo de Animas, donde compartimos otra comida con los aldeanos. Esa tarde, viajamos en coche durante cinco horas hasta el pueblo más lejano, El Tapón. Allí se le pidió al obispo Kopacz que bendijera las semillas de maíz y frijoles pintos que se utilizarían para la siembra. También se le pidió que brindara protección bendeciendo a dos rebaños de cabras. Después de la bendición, Obispo Kopacz se le ofreció un cabrito como un regalo. Le expliqué a la señora amable que hacía la oferta que estaríamos solamente en el país cinco días y es prohibido traer cabras a los Estados Unidos. En vez, ella ofreció al obispo un
paquete de tortillas que aceptó graciosamente.
A la mañana siguiente, con una maleta llena de camisetas del colegio de St. Anthony y 500 bolígrafos del obispo, visitamos el pueblo de Garambullo, donde fuimos recibidos con una presentación de danzas aztecas antes de la misa. El padre David nos mostró el nuevo techo que había puesto en la iglesia. Muchas iglesias en los pueblos están en necesidad de reparación y un techo cuesta unos $3,000.
Cuando llegamos a La Ventura, cerca de 500 aldeanos estaban completando el vio crucis. Por su herencia y cultura, el pueblo mexicano se relaciona muy bien con el Cristo sufriente. El Obispo Kopacz estaba de nuevo frente y centro celebrando la misa y administrando el sacramento de la Confirmación. Después, tuvimos un almuerzo delicioso con los aldeanos. El padre Davíd nos mostró un edificio que consta de dos habitaciones donde los catequistas se quendan para que puedan formar catequistas de la aldea y realizar misiones durante todo el año. Él planea agregar otro piso al edificio, ya que La Ventura es una ubicación central desde donde se sirven otras seis aldeas.
Volviendo a Saltillo, disfrutamos de una maravillosa cena con el obispo de Saltillo, Don Raúl Vera. El Obispo Kopacz compartió con él su plan y visión pastoral para la diócesis de Jackson.
A la mañana siguiente, compartimos un desayuno con el padre David y el padre Evelio, que son grandes visionarios y están atendiendo las necesidades del pueblo. Otro ejemplo de su plan es un proyecto, en su infancia. San Miguel se ha convertido en el hogar de cuatro estudiantes que no pueden pagar habitación mientras estudian en la universidad. A cambio de alojamiento y comida, los estudiantes acompañan a los sacerdotes durante sus ministerios los fines de semanas, un proyecto que cuesta aproximadamente $2,500 por estudiante. Sin embargo, este es un excelente ejemplo de la iglesia ofreciendo sus servicios a los necesitados y cambiando las vidas de la gente para mejor.
Otro programa digno en San Miguel es el programa catequístico. Los catequistas jóvenes son traídos de las aldeas remotas para permanecer en San Miguel por una semana o dos

durante el verano. Los rancheros están muy conmovidos por esta experiencia. Por primera vez en su vida tienen comida servida por otra persona. Además, tienen la experiencia de tomar una ducha. Es un mundo diferente en San Miguel.
Me gustaría terminar con una breve historia de una niña de cuatro años que recibió mi última camiseta de St. Anthony. Estaba tan emocionada con su tesoro, que no se la quitaba. La camisa de talla-12 era tan larga que le llegaba hasta los tobillos. Su madre me dijo más tarde que no se lo quitaría incluso para ir a dormir y lo usó como su pijama. También l

e di el sombrero de golf St. Anthony que llevaba puesto, que ella también llevó a la cama, ya que estaba tan llena de alegría con su regalo. Puedo asegurarles que la gente de Saltillo está muy agradecida de todo lo que la gente de Mississippi hace por ellos y nos pidieron que les expresemos su gratitud. (Monseñor Flannery está escribiendo un libro que detalla la historia de la misión de Saltillo.)

Msgr. Flannery reflects on return to Saltillo

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Msgr. Michael Flannery visits with one of the children in the mission.

By Msgr. Michael Flannery
Bishop Joseph Kopacz and I went to visit the Saltillo Mission over the Thanksgiving holidays. Bishop Kopacz was fulfilling a promise he made to Father Benjamin Piovan, the pastor of San Miguel Mission who passed away last August and was buried in La Place, Louisiana. It was the first visit of the bishop to our mission south of the border. He did not know what to expect. He asked me to accompany him on the visit since I had been assigned to the Saltillo Mission from 1971 to 1974. I had kept in touch with the mission over the years and had returned to visit it more than 30 times.
We left Jackson on Thanksgiving day and we spent five wonderful days at San Miguel. During our time there we visited the seven churches within the city of Saltillo which are part of the mission. We visited two ranchos or villages. The villages assigned to Bishop Kopacz to visit were La Rosa (The Rose) and Sabanilla (The Little Cloth). La Rosa was one hour and a half from Saltillo. It had a paved road all the way. Sabanilla was 45 minutes by highway and two hours and fifteen minutes off the highway on a dirt road. We traveled in a wagon each time.
Friday was spent getting to know the senior citizens of San Miguel. We had a delightful meal with them. In Mexico, old age is not regarded as being a cross but rather a blessing. The elderly are revered and put on a pedestal as being wise and knowledgeable. That afternoon we spent at St. William’s Church and enjoyed a presentation on the birth of the Lord.
The first thing on the agenda for Saturday morning was the blessing of a catechetical center at Maria Auxiliadora. The children of Madison St. Anthony School built two catechetical class rooms as a Lenten project last year. The cost of the project was $4,000. The children of St. Anthony sacrificed for the entire Lenten Season to make it a reality. For the blessing of the catechetical center Bishop Kopacz was joined by the Bishop Emeritus Francisco Villalobos.
The highlight for me was the visit to La Rosa on Saturday. It was a village where I served more than 40 years ago. Father David Martinez, the present acting pastor of San Miguel, had arranged for members of five other villages to congregate there. They were all villages I had served in and most of the elderly people knew me. It was like a homecoming.

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Bishop Kopacz celebrated Mass at the main church on the mission, San Miguel Arcangel. He also conferred the sacrament of confirmation on the youth at the church.

For Bishop Kopacz, the highlight was the visit to Sabanilla (one of the ranchos) on Sunday morning. We were met by the villagers on the dirt road about a mile from the village requesting that we process from there by foot. They wrapped a Mexican flag around Bishop Kopacz’s shoulders and told him he was now truly Mexican. We processed singing: “Juntos como hermanos, miembros de una iglesia, vamos caminando al templo del Señor.” (Together as brothers and sisters, members of one church,  we go together walking, to the temple of the Lord.)
The bishop was duly impressed by the faith of the people. He remarked to me that this is what the gospel is all about. He recalled the life of Pope Francis who, as cardinal of Buenos Aires,  went with regularity by bus to a giant slum, in the district of Baracas known as “21-24.” Pope Francis challenges all of us to a new evangelization and to have a sensitivity for the poor of the world. The Lord looked after all the poor, the lonely, the crippled, blind and lame. No one was excluded from his ministry.
Another highlight for Bishop Kopacz was the visit to Perpetual Help Church and the tomb of Father Patrick Quinn, the founder of the mission. He remarked: “We should make every effort to keep alive the vision of Father Quinn.”
For Bishop Kopacz ‘seeing is believing’. Every place we went the people spoke with enthusiasm of the ministry of Father Quinn and his dedication to the poor of the ranchos. We stood in Father Quinn’s bedroom, which was his home for 30 years. We knew we were standing on holy ground.
The final night of our visit to Saltillo, we were invited to participate in a new project in honor of the memory of Father Quinn. A friend of the founding pastor had donated a strip of land within the city of Saltillo measuring 24 acres in size. It is most unusual to find a strip of property that size within city limits. The Bishop of Saltillo, Don Raul Vera joined us for the blessing of the corner stone of the project to be called Divine Mercy. It will contain a church in the round capable of seating 500 people, a home for unwed mothers and a dormitory for students from the ranchos who wish to pursue a university education but cannot afford to pay rent while attending classes. The compound has other possibilities for future growth.

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Bishop Joseph Kopacz celebrates Mass at the main church. Below he blesses a center, to be called Divine Mercy, in Saltillo, Mexico. (Photos courtesy of John Chevis)

After the ceremony we shared a delightful meal with Bishop Raul Vera, Bishop Kopacz, Father David Martinez, acting pastor, Father Evelio Casarrubias associate pastor of San Miguel and myself. At 10 p.m. we adjourned to pack our bags in preparation for our return journey to Jackson.
Every place Bishop Kopacz went everyone wanted a personal photo with him. As a result the photo op took approximately 30 minutes at each visit. In conclusion we both felt that the faith is alive and strong at San Miguel Mission. We agreed with Bishop Raul Vera that the continuance of the financial support was good so that the vision of Father Quinn would continue long into the future.
The Diocese of Jackson has a special collection for Saltillo scheduled for Jan. 10 and 11, 2015.
(Msgr. Flannery is the pastor of Madison St. Francis of Assisi Parish. Read Bishop Joseph Kopacz’s reflection on the journey on page 3.)