Bishop-elect Rodriguez through his family’s eyes

When Bishop-elect Jorge Rodriguez was six years old his parents took a trip to Mexico City, and when they asked their son Jorge what he wanted as a gift, he asked them to bring him a crucifix.

“That was the first sign of his embracing Christ,” his older sister Ligia Rodriguez told El Pueblo Católico.

The bishop-elect is the fifth of six children: Jose Ramon, Nery Beatriz (Betty), Pilar, Ligia, Jorge and Maria del Carmen (Carmina). El Pueblo Católico was able to speak with his family, who all reside in their hometown of Merida, located on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico.

Ligia recalls that, as many children who feel called by God at a young age, “Jorgito” played Mass, and in particular he liked to celebrate the sacrament of matrimony. She also noted that all the children were taken to catechism class, “but he was the only one who finished the course!”

Jose Ramon spoke about Jorge’s solidarity with the poor: “My parents gave to the poor, but [Jorge] did what he could to make sure the help arrived to the poorest of the poor. If given the opportunity, he would give away his new shoes. I had the opportunity to accompany him and I met some of the families he helped. He was very quiet and did not keep track of what he did. Many times we didn’t even know until much later.”

Despite being a pious young child, Jorge surprised his family with the news that he was going to study to be a priest. “We thought that he had already forgotten,” Beatriz recalled.

“When he told us that he wanted to be a priest, it gave me such joy because out of all of us he was the one who was choosing the best path,” Ligia recalls. Nonetheless, his sister, who is three years older, said she missed him a lot because “he was the one who accompanied me to parties and dances.”

In 1987, Jorge was ordained to the priesthood in Rome as a priest of a religious congregation (the Legionaries of Christ). Four of his siblings traveled to Rome for the ordination. Carmina note that during the Mass she, and another sister, felt the presence of their father, who had died five years earlier. “We are confident that this was the presence of my father, who accompanied us from heaven.”

Carmina will be the only sibling to not attend the episcopal ordination in November, as she will stay to care for their Neri, who for health reasons and age (97 years), is not able to travel. “But we will be there in our hearts,” Carmina said.

When asked for a little insight into the person of Jorge Rodriguez, Ligia said that she is someone she admires, because he is “very strict and very firm in his convictions, yet is very cheerful and likes to joke.”

Jose Ramon admires “the affection that surrounds my brother”: “It must be very difficult detach oneself from one’s family, but he has a much bigger one now,” referring to the faithful that Jorge attends to daily in his priestly ministry.

His five siblings agree that the bishop-elect knows very well how to combine his affable and joking nature with firmness in his convictions and character.

Pilar told the Denver Catholic how they all went to the beach once as a family, and they had brought her 12-year-old grandson with some of his friends: “My grandson wanted to confess to him, and soon all of his friends were making a line. All of this because [my grandson] told them [Father Jorge] was ‘cool’ to confess to! To this day, those boys continue to ask for Father Jorge, and they are now 20 and 21 years old!”

Bety related that her brother is a “a man of integrity”: “He does not like things done half-way, and he is very charitable. He is very dedicated and happy in his vocation,” and she added that when she learned that he had been appointed auxiliary bishop of Denver, “I started jumping up and down with excitement!”

After speaking by phone with all the siblings of the future bishop, El Pueblo Católico received a voice mail from Father Jorge’s mother, Nery Novelo: “I congratulate Jorge very much on his appointment. May God help him very much. Here I wait for him.”

COMING UP: Healing hatred and anger after Charlottesville

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The confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the nationwide reaction to it are clear signs of the tensions simmering just below the surface of our society. But we know as people of faith that these wounds can be healed if we follow Christ’s example, rather than the path of revenge.

It was with a heavy heart that I learned about the Aug. 12 clashes between white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville that resulted in the injury of around 34 people and the death of Heather Heyer. It was an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” melee.

These events remind me of Pope Francis’ 2017 World Day of Peace message, in which he pointed out that “Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for ‘it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come’ (Mk. 7:21).”

What we witnessed in Charlottesville was an outward expression of hundreds of hearts, and as a shepherd of souls, I cannot stand by silently while people allow hatred toward others rule their hearts. Particularly reprehensible were the derogatory words the neo-Nazis and their white supremacist allies shouted toward African Americans, Jews and Latinos. This is not how God sees his children!

Every human being is bestowed from the moment of conception with the dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God, and we are all loved by him, even amid our sin and brokenness. Satan seeks every opportunity to twist these fundamental truths in the hearts of human beings and we can see the devastation it brings throughout history.

It can be tempting to respond to these attacks on our fellow man with violence, just as the members of the Anti-fascist movement (known as “Antifa”) did in Charlottesville. But this is not what Christ taught, since it allows hatred to gain a foothold through a different avenue. It is worth repeating: the human heart is the true battlefield.

Jesus’ response to violence and persecution stands in contrast with the way of hatred and anger. Instead, he taught his disciples to love their enemies (Mt. 5:44) and to turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:39). Christ’s radical answer is only possible because God unconditionally loves every person and is ready to forgive us when we repent. God’s love is the only thing that can cut through the hatred that is bringing people to blows, heal the human heart and form it after his own. As people of faith, we are called to bring the truth of love to these festering wounds so that hearts may be healed by Christ.

Joseph Pearce, the Catholic convert and former white supremacist, is a perfect example of this. In a recent article for the National Catholic Register, he recalls how it was his encounter with the objective truths of the faith that demolished his race-centered identity and seeing his enemies love him when he confronted them with hatred that changed his heart. We must pray for the grace to love as Jesus loves, to love as the Father loves.

“The way out of this deadly spiral,” Pearce says, “is to go beyond the love of neighbor, as necessary as that is, and to begin to love our enemies. This is not simply good for us, freeing us from the bondage of hatred; it is good for our enemies also.”

May all of us follow the great example of Mark Heyer, the father of the woman who was killed after the white supremacist rally. His daughter’s death, Heyer told USA Today, made him think “about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.’”

Jesus desires that every person have a heart that is whole and free from hatred, anger and pride. He desires to form our hearts, and that only comes about when we are receptive to his unconditional love, for only in receiving his unconditional love will we be able to give it to others. I pray that all the faithful will be instruments of healing for our country by bringing Christ’s forgiveness to their neighbors and their enemies.