From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

Patricio Flores

We can choose to use our lives for others to bring about a better and more just world for our children.

César Chávez

In the heart of Texas lives the sole Mexican-American Catholic archbishop in the world. At seventy-five, this gentle man stands only about 5’2” tall, yet his stature in the community is beyond measure. As Archbishop of San Antonio, he pastors some 660,000 Catholics. He has dined with presidents and politicians, with the poor and with the pope. He is equally comfortable communicating in English or Spanish, and he fosters a community of collaboration that transcends religious boundaries and ethnic traditions. This letter, written to his late mother (who died in 1957 and is, no doubt, en el cielo), honors the man who Latinos can be proud to call one of their own.

Dear Mrs. Flores,

You and your husband would be proud of the man your son, Patrick, has become. He was the first Mexican-American to become a bishop, and he is currently the longest-serving archbishop in the country. In this, the twilight of his career, many people are stepping back to appreciate the scope of your son’s accomplishments, some of which are discussed in the paragraphs that follow. I write this letter to honor you by honoring him, and to glorify God for making these things possible.

You were with your son at his ordination in 1956, and you were at his side during his first pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City in 1957. Your death later that same year had a profound impact on your son. Through the pain of losing you, he grew as a man and as a priest. In the 1960s, your son experienced another great blow: the death of his father, Patricio. Your son turned his heavy heart into a renewed faith in the promise of the Resurrection of Jesus.

This strength guided him as he served a number of parish communities. Though he still encountered prejudice—such as an admonition from one of his pastors to refrain from speaking Spanish to his parishioners—he not only overcame it, he also transformed it. He was among the first priests to coordinate “Mariachi Masses,” bringing the music of la gente into the sacred halls of a church.

In 1970, your son was ordained as a bishop. Not long afterward, he stood with César Chávez in boycotting grapes and founded the Office of Catholic Services for Immigrants. He also cofounded the Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC), the nation’s premiere training ground for those involved in ministry to Hispanics. He made a huge impact on the face of higher education when he jump-started the National Hispanic Scholarship Fund. Your son had his first brush with death when he was held hostage with several others while attending a bishop’s conference in Ecuador. He eventually became Archbishop of San Antonio in 1979.

During the 1980s, your son spearheaded much growth and development in his diocese. Guided by the principles he set forth in his first pastoral letter, “A New Pentecost: A Vision for the Archdiocese of San Antonio,” he strived to meet the goals he had set forth: a call to ministry; parish development; preference for special needs; a reorganization of diocesan structures; and increased service to rural areas. In the midst of all this, he traveled to Cuba for a pastoral visit and hosted Pope John Paul II during the pontiff’s own pastoral visit to the state of Texas. The ‘80s also included a second brush with death as he underwent surgery for Ménière’s syndrome.

Your son has continued his ministry through the 1990s and into the twenty-first century. To be certain, there have been dark, lonely times for him along the way. He has made his fair share of mistakes and has even stared down the face of death, not once, but twice in these last fourteen years. (He was held hostage a second time, and he underwent septuplet heart bypass surgery.) But you must know all of this, as you have no doubt been his guardian angel throughout!

Mrs. Flores, all these things are wonderful, but they are not what make your hijo truly remarkable. Anyone who spends a few minutes talking with him comes away with the sense that this man is special. He is a believer that “hablando las cosas se entienden.” Take, for example, his response to the church’s “crackdown” on liberal Catholicism that has gone beyond the scope of Catholic teaching. Your son does not condone behavior that goes against Church teaching, but he does not condemn the person either. “We have to pray for guidance,” he says. “We were sent to deal with sinners—which we all are. We have to ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’” He believes that it is more important that we listen to one another and pray for each other than to close the door on others.

This “open-door policy” is something he practices on a daily basis. People in need come to his office looking for help. What does your son do? If they are hungry, he offers them a voucher for free groceries at a local grocery store. He gives them information about shelters in the area and agencies that assist the poor on a long-term basis. In some cases, he shares a meal with them himself. And do you remember the second incident in which he was held hostage? The man involved was apparently distraught by immigration and financial difficulties. After his ordeal, your son did not shut his door. Instead, he saw to it that the man’s family received financial and legal assistance.

I believe we owe you a word of thanks for raising your children to respect other people and other cultures, reminding them that every connection we develop with another person is an additional opportunity to see the face of God. This is quite evident in your son. Ask him what he thinks about people of different religions, and his response is simple yet eloquent: “There are those the Lord wants in heaven through us (Catholics), and there are those he wants in heaven through others. Either way, it is in God’s hands so we should not worry.” As to people of different cultures, he talks about his appreciation for what they have to offer (traditions, music, food, etc.). Regarding illegal immigrants, he quips that the members of the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph) were undocumented people simply in search of safety and shelter. With a sparkle in his eye, he adds, “I’m just a cotton-picking bishop, too, you know,” referring to his years as a farm laborer.

The sick and the imprisoned have a special place in your son’s heart. In fact, they are the ones who will benefit the most from his retirement as he hopes to minister to them more in the future. “Es unministerio que se puede hacer y que no hay excusa por no hacer,” he says emphatically. He cites the beatitudes as his source of inspiration for this outreach. He says, “You can summarize it (the beatitudes) by saying that Jesus came to love us, and he wants us to love one another.” He has translated this teaching to his episcopal motto: “I will work not for myself, but for others.” It is something he does con todo corazón.

Though he never had any children of his own, your son is very much “un abuelito” for many young people in this diocese. His patience with children is unswerving, his concern for them unmitigated. Shelters, services, schools—your son supports these and many more systems that serve our youth. He is a firm believer in the value of an education, and he never wastes an opportunity to convey this to children and parents alike. You know what it was like for him to drop out of high school when he was a teenager, and how hard it was for him to eventually earn his degree. Every chance he gets, he urges young people to learn from his experience.

The parents he talks to receive a loud and clear message from him as well: “Parents, love your children. Tell them you love them. Mamás and papás, you must tell them of your love for them, even if it seems like they are not listening.” Your son sees that the greatest gift a father can give his family is to love his wife and children; the same can be said for the greatest gift a mother can give her family. Gracias, Sra. Flores, for sharing that gift with your family!

Your son is indeed a remarkable man. But he is also just as human as the rest of us, and thus he has his share of failings. He is the first to admit this. Even now he insists, “I hope my successor will be someone different from me, someone who can make up for the areas in which I fell short.”

We celebrate a man who, through the years, has struggled to overcome his shortcomings, who has remained faithful to his priestly vocation, who has defended the marginalized and oppressed, who has appreciated all cultures and religions, who has preached the gospel of Jesus with humility and humor, who has inspired others by his faith, and who has engaged people with compassion and service. We celebrate your son, Mrs. Flores, in whom we have had the privilege of seeing the face of God: We celebrate Patrick F. Flores, Archbishop of San Antonio.

Mónica González

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