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Column: Consecration of Bishop Flores Shows the Strength of an Idea

The consecration of Patricio Flores, a former Texas migrant farm worker, as a bishop of the Catholic Church indicated once more the church’s growing sensitivity to the Chicano community.

The mass of consecration held Tuesday in San Antonio on the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo was unusual in many ways. The ceremony was conducted in English, Spanish and Latin and televised in Los Angeles, San Antonio and Mexico City.

Instead of holding the rite in an august cathedral, it was held in an informal convention center to accomodate large numbers of la raza who applauded enthusiastically—unheard of in such ceremonies.

The music came not from a serious choir or majestic organ but from a joyful mariachi band.

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Among the special guests of the 41-year-old cleric, who became the first Mexican-American to be raised to the hierarchy of the church, were Cesar Chavez, Bishop Sergio Mendez Arceo of Cuernavaca, Mexico and Jose Angel Gutierrez, leader of the activist Chicano organization MAYO.

The guest list alone showed how involved Bishop Flores is in the problems of the Mexican-American, the farm worker, the young.

Chavez, who read one of the epistles at the mass of consecration, had already been recognized by the church as an important leader when the church’s Bishops Committee announced in Los Angeles April 1 that a “breakthrough” agreement between Chavez’ grape strikers and some California grape growers had been reached with the help of the Catholic Church.

This was a bitter defeat for those who claimed Chavez was not the true leader of the grape strikers. The defeat for growers wanting to discredit Chavez became more poignant when Archbishop Timothy Manning of Los Angeles told a press conference that he hoped the agreement between Chavez and a small number of growers “will be but the beginning of a chain of such contracts.”

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The fact that Bishop Mendez Arceo of Cuernavaca was present at the consecration of Bishop Flores publicly revealed the new bishop’s affinity to the church’s liberal wing. Bishop Mendez Arceo, a maverick in the Mexican conservative hierarchy, has many times proclaimed himself a staunch Zapatista. Emiliano Zapata, a Mexican revolutionary and a land reformer, is a hero of the Chicano movement.

Bishop Mendez in 1968 was the only Mexican bishop who refused to sign a declaration in support of the Pope’s new ban on artificial contraception and was the only member of the Mexican hierarchy to condemn the Mexican government’s repressive acts against students in the riots at the University of Mexico.

The invitation of Gutierrez, MAYO leader, who also read an epistle at the Flores consecration, probably shocked the Texas establishment because Gutierrez is known as one of the most militant Chicano youth leaders in the Southwest. Unlike Chavez, who is softspoken and dislikes the Chicano militant talk, Gutierrez is a forceful speaker on what he considers “Anglo crimes” ranging from the Vietnam war to the draft to bad Mexican-American education and the “suppression” of Mexican culture in the United States.

Bishop Flores, who with his parents and eight brothers and sisters migrated from farm job to farm job in his youth, believes communication between the church and the so-called militants must remain open.

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Bishop Flores’ consecration was a remarkable spectacle: guitar-playing mariachis mingling with miter-wearing bishops and barrio Chicanos mixing it up with plume-hatted and white-tie-and-tailed Knights of Columbus.

It gave one hope that an ideal, like the Catholic Church, can still bring people together.


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