“A priest is nothing without his people”

Monsignor Jorge de los Santos celebrates 25 years serving the Hispanic Catholic community

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“We used to play Mass as children,” Beatriz de los Santos remembers of her brother, Jorge. Even when he was only six years old, she recalls, he “knew the Mass backwards and forwards.”

Little Jorge grew up to be Monsignor Jorge de los Santos, and now he is celebrating 25 years as a priest. Beatriz came from Mexico for the festivities, sharing her memories of their childhood games at an anniversary celebration held at St. Cajetan’s parish in Denver.

What began as a child’s game is now the mature vocation of a man who was ordained Aug. 9, 1991, in his hometown of Torreón in Coahuila, in north central Mexico. He decided to be incardinated into the Archdiocese of Denver in order to serve the Hispanic community, a service he currently carries out at Holy Rosary parish, as well as at the Mother Cabrini Sanctuary, where he celebrates a Mass in Spanish once a month.

Monsignor de los Santos also gives counsel and spiritual direction to members of the Christian Family and Cursillo Movements, Marriage Encounter, the Charismatic Renewal, and the Night Adoration group, among others. He’s also a regular columnist for El Pueblo Católico and collaborates with the section “Tu Iglesia te Responde” (“Your Church answers your questions”).

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Beloved Hispanic priest Monsignor Jorge de los Santos, pastor of Holy Rosary parish, celebrated 25 years of priesthood Aug. 9 with a special Mass presided by Vicar for Clergy Monsignor Bernie Schmitz, followed by a celebration with over 400 people. (Photo provided)

Some 400 people attended the silver anniversary festivities, which began with a Mass presided over by Monsignor Bernard Schmitz, Vicar for Clergy for the Archdiocese of Denver.

“I know that many times, you are like the Roadrunner,” Monsignor Schmitz quipped at the end of Mass. “You go from a night of adoration to a Mass or a celebration, but tonight, you have to stay put and celebrate with us.”

Freely you have received

“The gift of the priesthood is not something we merit with our intelligence, our efforts or our valor,” said Monsignor Schmitz (as he is known) in his homily. “It is in fact a gift. It is something we receive from the Lord … we have to be recipients and receive the grace of the Lord, and share it.”

He added: “The priest must be a bridge who helps people cross from one side to another. From the life of sin to the life of grace … from desperation to reconciliation.”

“I imagine that you yourself would say you are not a perfect priest,” he continued. “That you also need conversion. But for many people you have been an example to follow, and we are grateful for your presence here.”

At the end of the Mass, Monsignor de los Santos spoke some words to his beloved flock. “The celebration of today should actually be a celebration of all of you,” he said. “A priest is nothing without his people.”

The celebration of today should actually be a celebration of all of you. A priest is nothing without his people.”

“One tries to simply accompany them, doing what he can. May this celebration lead us as a Church to the work that we carry out together, to the activity that unites us in the Lord in working for his Kingdom,” he added.

After the Mass, the celebration continued in the parish center of St. Cajetan’s, with a dinner and music from mariachis and Mexican folkloric dancing.

Luis Álvarez, director of Hispanic Ministry and the Centro San Juan Diego, thanked Monsignor de los Santos for these 25 years of “accompanying his people … of teaching, of giving words of advice and consolation … of sharing tears with his people, and as the Pope says, ‘having the smell of his sheep.’”

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Mariachis and traditional Mexican dancers were among the highlights of the celebration honoring Monsignor de los Santos’ 25th anniversary of priesthood. (Photo provided)

He then asked the monsignor to follow the directive from the day’s Gospel, to become like little children: “Be like a six year old who is happy to cut the cake and allow the others to embrace him — that’s my request,” Álvarez said.

Some who joined the festivities shared with El Pueblo Catolico what the ministry of Monsignor de los Santos has meant for them.

Lita Trejo noted how the priest has brought life to the music group “Trigo de Jesus,” in which she participates. “I admire his patience, his gentle way of speaking, but at the same time, he’s demanding,” she said. Marta Aranda, another member of this musical group, said that what she most admires about him is “his humility.”

Salvador, from the Night Adoration group and a member of Holy Trinity parish in Westminster, defined Monsignor Jorge as “a man of faith who transmits this to all the faithful.” When we asked Salvador’s wife, Africa Calderón, what the priest’s spiritual support had meant for her, she responded with a sigh. “Wow,” she said, “he is a person who surrenders himself for us. In his words and in his face, there is reflected so much love and so much peace.”

COMING UP: Denver’s new auxiliary bishop beloved by local community

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After a long wait, Denver is getting a new auxiliary bishop, one that the local community knows and loves very well.

Pope Francis announced Thursday the appointment of Father Jorge Rodriguez, pastor of Holy Cross parish in Thornton, as the next auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Denver. A press conference announcing his appointment was held Thursday morning at the Cardinal Stafford Library. Among those attending to show their support were Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, various clergy and seminarians, and members of the Holy Cross parish community.

Archbishop Aquila introduced Bishop-elect Rodriguez to standing applause, and even some tears of joy.

“It is a moment of great joy for the Church of northern Colorado,” Archbishop Aquila said. “It has been a long time waiting for a new auxiliary, and we are truly blessed with one of our own priests. It is with great joy that I welcome him, both as a friend and a brother.”

DENVER, CO - Pope Francis appointed Father Jorge Rodriguez was the next auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Denver Aug. 25, 2016. A press conference announcing the appointment was held at the Cardinal Stafford Library.

Pope Francis appointed Father Jorge Rodriguez the next auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Denver Aug. 25, 2016. A press conference announcing the appointment was held at the Cardinal Stafford Library. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

Of his new appointment, Bishop-elect Rodriguez told Denver Catholic, “In this moment, I feel overwhelmed. At the same time as I feel overwhelmed, I feel at peace.

Bishop-Elect Rodriguez is beloved by the Denver Catholic community, and especially the local Hispanic community. His work as the new auxiliary bishop is likely to fulfill a great need for the Hispanic Catholic community in Denver, which comprises 52% of all Catholics in the archdiocese.

“He will be a wonderful witness and presence for our Hispanics,” Archbishop Aquila said. “He certainly knows the Hispanic community, plus he knows many of the English speaking members of our community too.”

While serving as pastor of Holy Cross, Bishop-elect Rodriguez has worked to integrate the Hispanic community into the overarching Catholic community in Denver, he hopes to integrate the two even further as auxiliary bishop.

DENVER, CO - Pope Francis appointed Father Jorge Rodriguez was the next auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Denver Aug. 25, 2016. A press conference announcing the appointment was held at the Cardinal Stafford Library.

Archbishop Aquila warmly welcomed Bishop-elect Rodriguez as new auxiliary bishop for Denver, saying that “He will be a wonderful witness and presence for our Hispanics.” (Photo by Andrew Wright)

“Love can bring both communities together,” Bishop-elect Rodriguez said. “When I see both communities celebrating, having fun, and you see Hispanics dancing the square dance, and Anglos dancing to Mariachi music — that’s possible, let’s work on it.”

Several Holy Cross parishioners attended the press conference in show of support for the bishop-elect. The expressed their joy and gratitude at the announcement.

“The parishioners of Holy Cross know how prepared he is spiritually and intellectually,” said Holy Cross parishioner Maria Rodriguez. “We know his personality and his good sense of humor. He is very coherent with what he preaches.”

Holy Cross Deacon Mario Vielma said that Bishop-elect Rodriguez will make a great shepherd for the ever-growing Hispanic community in Denver.

DENVER, CO - Pope Francis appointed Father Jorge Rodriguez was the next auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Denver Aug. 25, 2016. A press conference announcing the appointment was held at the Cardinal Stafford Library.

Parishioners from Holy Cross, where Bishop-elect Rodriguez currently serves as pastor, attended the press conference in a show of support. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

“Due to the quickly growing Hispanic population, especially in Denver, God put his gaze on [Bishop-elect Rodriguez] to be a new shepherd of that community,” Deacon Vielma said. “I have learned so much from his wisdom, his teachings and the way he addresses the faithful, both in English and Spanish.”

A Mexican-born priest and theologian, Bishop-elect Rodriguez’s connection to Denver dates back to 1999, when then-Archbishop Charles Chaput invited him to leave his post as the dean of the Theology Department of the Pontifical Athenaeum Apostorum in Rome and teach theology at the newly-opened St. John Vianney Seminary.

In 2002, Bishop-elect Rodriguez returned to Rome to serve as associate pastor of Stella Maris parish, but returned to Denver in 2006 and served as vice-rector of St. John Vianney from 2007 to 2014. In 2014, he was assigned to be pastor of Holy Cross parish in Thornton, where he has served since.