|SAN JUAN, May 3 - Daniel Flores, the bishop of Brownsville, says he is looking at establishing more parishes to cater for the Rio Grande Valley’s rapidly growing population.
There are currently about 70 parishes tending to the 1.1 million Catholics in the four-county Valley region. Catholics comprise about 85 percent of the Valley population.
“If you asked me what my big concern is in the life of the Church here it is the growth,” Flores said. “I think we have about 70 parishes and almost all the parishes have chapels. I need to create more parishes and it is not something you just do like that. It is a consultation process. Where is the growth curve? Where are the communities that are springing up that need the pastoral presence of the Church, the sacraments, and so forth?”
Flores made his remarks at his annual brunch for Valley reporters. The brunch, held at the Basilica in San Juan, is held to celebrate World Communications Day.
Flores said that when he asks where new parishes should be everybody raises their hand. “Part of our responsibility is to discern, given our resources, where can we start expanding, either creating a new parish, which requires certain financial resources but also the service of priests,” he said.
The Diocese of Brownsville covers the counties of Starr, Hidalgo, Willacy and Cameron. “All are unique and quite beloved,” Flores said. He said his diocese is probably No. 1 in the country in terms of Catholic population. He pointed out that he spends a lot of time on the road travelling to the different parishes. He said he seems to traverse the Valley’s two largest counties, Cameron and Hidalgo, every other day, back and forth.
“The number of people that are coming into the community and that we have a responsibility to is much, much, on my mind; that and the young people and just the growth and the responsibility that we have to provide a pastoral presence and a formative presence in the life of the Valley. Those are things I think about, that are on my mind,” Flores said.
Flores said as he travels around the Valley he sees new colonias or neighborhoods springing up all the time. He mentioned, for example, new communities in Harlingen and San Juan but singled out in particular the growth occurring in western Hidalgo County. “If you haven’t been up to that part of Hidalgo County you probably ought to visit,” Flores told reporters. “Families that are trying to establish themselves… dirt floors, trying to make it in much poorer circumstances, as poor as you will find in any place.” Flores paid tribute to the young people in the parishes that are helping those new communities establish themselves. He said the families are working hard and are proud of the advances they are making.
After the brunch concluded, the Guardian interviewed Flores about the Valley’s growth and his need to expand the Church’s outreach. Flores was asked if expanding the number of parishes would take a major financial commitment. He said he has to make the best use of the clergy.
“The diocese would make an investment initially (for) property but long term you have to pull the community together and they have to be able to sustain at least the initial expenses, the events, the activities of the church,” Flores said.
Flores said the traditional way to grow a parish is take one that is well established and add a mission.
“In a lot of these cases we would look at which parishes need to start establishing a mission out in an area that is growing, develop it naturally. The church needs to be missionary, to go out and invite people to form a presence that helps coalesce a community into a sense of its identity. That’s what mission churches do,” Flores said.
Flores added to his comments about the growth west of Mission. “It is incredible. One of our churches has six chapels. May be it is time to split in two, identify resources, the needs of the community and how best to do that. It is a definitely a high priority. It is a challenge that requires some consultation and thought,” Flores said.
In his address to reporters Flores also paid tribute to a group of young reporters from Raymondville who have been placed second in a national competition. The five young journalists – Rosa Barrera, aged 14, Carla Bocanegra, aged 11, Ralia Cortinas, aged 14, Jose Treviño, aged 16, and Celyna Vasquez, aged 12 – are members of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Raymondville. They trained for one year as part of the Diocese’s Mobile Journalist Project and came second in the Multi-Media Youth Contest sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
Flores said he really only has one sermon and he just changes the stories to illustrate the message in the sermon. He said it is about the importance of fighting cynicism. He also said the Valley was “on the cutting edge of what the rest of the country will be.” And, he joked that he tells people he is the bishop of Roma and people tell him they want to visit him. Then he tells them he is also the bishop of South Padre Island and people tell him they really want to visit him.
“I love it here, I must tell you. I am very, very, happy,” Flores said. “It is a beautiful place.”