‘His visit leaves us a spiritual richness’

By Elsa Baughman
SALTILLO, México – In his second pastoral visit to the Saltillo Mission in two years, Bishop Joseph Kopacz followed a packed schedule with visits to the ranchos, Masses, confirmations and sharing meals and talking with the faithful in the region of northern Mexico.
The main reason for this second trip to St. Michael Parish was for the consecration of its new chapel, Divine Mercy, built in Colonia Fuentes del Pedregal, an area of Saltillo that, according to Father David Martínez Rubio, pastor, is home to many Protestants and atheists, few of whom show interest in returning to their Catholic faith. This chapel will use the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as a guide to provide services to the community, said Father Martínez.
Before the Mass to consecrate the chapel on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 31, Bishop Kopacz took a three-day road trip to visit 13 ranchos, during which he celebrated six Masses; one of them of thanksgiving for a quinceañera and one in “El Cuervo,” a hunting ranch where he was invited to spend the night.
At the different stops, Bishop Kopacz, Father Martínez and the volunteers who accompanied him, ate breakfast, lunch and dinner with the people of the ranchos. During the Masses, Bishop Kopacz conferred the sacrament of confirmation to 24 youth in three of the communities and participated in several celebrations dedicated to the traditional presentation of the Baby Jesus in the temple, which marks the end of the Christmas season.
Bishop Kopacz also visited and blessed the chapels of each of these 13 communities, celebrating Mass at five of them. He stopped to admire, in each of them, their manger which was still on display.
Diana Estrada, one of the youth confirmed in Rancho New Sabanilla on Sunday, Jan. 31, said she felt very happy because she had the joy of being confirmed by Bishop Kopacz. “It was a very nice experience,” she said. “I admire him because I see that he is a humble and simple person; I am pleased to see him again.” She noted that she had met Bishop Kopacz in November 2014 when he visited her rancho. On that occasion, community members walked a few kilometers to meet him along the way. “I was impressed by the fact that he got out of the van and walked along with us to the chapel,” she said.
The newly consecrated Divine Mercy Chapel seats about 600 people. During his first visit in 2014 Bishop Kopacz blessed the first stone, along with the Bishop of Saltillo, Raul Vera, and promised the congregation that he would return to bless it in a year.
The name given to the project was chosen before Pope Francis announced the Jubilee Year of Mercy. “That left us without words. It is not a coincidence,” said Father Martínez. “I believe God is present here and has made Don José participant of this project.” Bishop Kopacz is affectionately known in Saltillo as “Don José.”
“For our parishioners, and especially for the people of the ranchos, it is clearly a sign of the mercy of God to see Don José coming to see them from so far away and tell them that he is representing his whole diocese and that his parishioners love them, pray for them and offer them spiritual support. Is something as nice as when the Lord said, ‘Here I am,'” Father Martinez noted.
“We experienced how Don José visited the homes of these humble people without any problem,” he added. “The people here usually think that a bishop comes with bodyguards, that is someone far from them, who is not capable of touching or conversing with them or that can not visit their homes because they are very humble. They have this thinking, and when they see Don José that comes to their homes, drinks coffee with them and enjoys a family meal without any protocol or an ecclesiastic title, that moves them a lot, reinforces their faith and makes them feel that Christ is walking with them, sharing his life with them.”
Father Martinez said that during the time he worked with Father Benjamin Piovan he learned about what Father Patrick Quinn had done in the ranchos, a mission many other priests from the Dioceses of Jackson and Biloxi continued during their years of service in St. Michael.
Father Martinez said their work in the parish and in the ranchos would not be possible without the constant economic and spiritual support of the Dioceses of Jackson and Biloxi. “We were surprised when we met Bishop Kopacz. “He is a man full of mercy. That is the only way I can describe it,” he said.
The mission at St. Michael Parish now, and before it, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, has been co-sponsored by the Diocese of Jackson and the Diocese of Biloxi since 1969. Irish Father Patrick Quinn was its first pastor who volunteered to serve in a place whose language was unknown to him. Father Quinn remained the pastor of Perpetual Help Church until the time of his death on Jan. 7, 1997.
Father Martinez, 43-years-old, and Father Evelio Casarrubias, 35, were ordained in 2011 in the Diocese of Saltillo and both began to serve in St. Michael Parish working with Father Benjamin Piovan. When Father Piovan died in the August 2014 Bishop Raul Vera appointed them administrators of the parish.
Fathers Martinez and Casasrrubias visit the 30 ranchos that are part of the parish twice a month and on special occasions when classes are held for the sacraments or when there are special religious celebrations such as Ash Wednesday and Holy Week. These ranchos are located in areas of the desert, about 50 miles away away from the city of Saltillo. The hardest part of their ministry is not celebrating Mass or visiting these ranchos but the roads to get there which are covered with rocks and holes and at times are very difficult to go through.
But counting their blessings is the commitment of the lay people who accompany them on their visits to the ranchos, making their job a little easier.
Four of these dedicated volunteers accompanied Father Martínez and Bishop Kopacz during the visit to the 13 ranchos. Two served as drivers and eucharistic ministers and two youth were in charge of providing the music, carrying their equipment from place to place.
“Yes, it’s a bumpy road to get to these ranchos but we have to bring the love of God to them,” said Father Martínez.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: See more photos in the Spanish edition)