Bishop Jorge Rodríguez spoke with Denver Catholic in Spanish about his first year as a bishop, the new tasks he’s taken on, and the reflections that have come to mind after 12 months as the auxiliary bishop of Denver.
Denver Catholic: What moments most stand out from your first year as a bishop?
Bishop Rodriguez: The ordination ceremony from last Nov. 4, and the visit I made to my home diocese now as a bishop, and the celebration with my family. Also, the meeting with Pope Francis last Sept. 14.
Describe the experience of transitioning from being the parish priest of Holy Cross to the auxiliary bishop of Denver.
It wasn’t easy. As a priest, one needs his parish family. I had to leave this family, and with it, leave the plans and dreams that we were working on. As a bishop, the rhythm of work is more intense than what I had in the parish, and very different.
DC: Recently, you were also named the Vicar of Clergy. What is it like to accompany the priests of the archdiocese?
Bishop Rodriguez: I discovered that the role of Vicar of Clergy includes a lot of administrative work. My challenge is to keep from getting lost in that, and instead to be available for my brother priests and in frequent contact with them. Thanks be to God, I have always had a deep appreciation for my brother priests, and I truly enjoy being in their company. My new post gives me the opportunity to transform this friendship with them into service and support. Hopefully, they also feel that they can count on me — as a brother, not as a bureaucrat in charge of supervising them. The priests, along with our archbishop, and our brother deacons, make up a united whole, a unity. May God permit that this unity, which comes from and was desired by Our Lord Jesus Christ, might also spring from the heart and fraternity.
DC: How are things going with the Hispanic community of the archdiocese? What are the strengths of that community, and what elements need improvement?
Bishop Rodriguez: I see this community as a providential gift of God, as an infusion of life, faith, traditions, and joy in our Catholic Church. Hispanic Catholics bring a deep devotion to the Eucharist, to the Virgin Mary and the Holy Father. They have a lot of appreciation for their priests and foster activity in their communities through prayer groups and apostolic movements.
But the Hispanic community comes and is inserted within the Catholic Church existing in the United States, which also has its own beauty and gifts. This means that one has to learn to adapt oneself to its organizational methods and its personal and economic endeavors in the parish.
In coming to the United States, our Hispanic brothers and sisters find themselves in a different realm where the majority of people belong to the great variety of Protestant churches. That’s why it is important that they educate themselves in the faith, that they know their Catholic faith so they can respond to people’s questions and challenges. Our Hispanic community has a great Catholic heart, but they must increase their knowledge of the faith.
DC: Statistics say that only 3% of seminarians in the United States are Hispanic. How can we stimulate a vocational ministry in this community?
Bishop Rodriguez: We need to make a plan. The plan should begin with families, because it has been proven that priestly vocations generally come from solid, practicing Catholic families. Vocations are born more naturally from families that pray together, that go to Mass together on Sundays — honest families where faith and love are lived.
But there is also a need for a vocations ministry made of prayer for priestly and consecrated vocations; of a program of retreats, talks and activities in which young people are presented with the beauty of consecrating your life to God and to the service of our brothers and sisters; of service activities for the most needy and those who suffer, where young people can feel the joy of giving themselves and where they widen their hearts to make possible a total gift of themselves. The plan should also include a more direct participation on the part of parish priests, who are the first ones to discover signs of a vocation in young people.
In our life today, it’s more difficult to hear the call of God. The noise of the world keeps our young people from hearing this whisper in their hearts. I think that part of the plan would also be to find ways to protect young people from the superficiality and the egotism of the world and to open them to the life of prayer, to an interior life and to openness to the call of God.
Didn’t Jesus tell us that we’re worth much more than the sparrows and the lilies, which God cares for with such affection and attention? And that not a leaf falls from a tree without God knowing? Life goes on and we can never give up on our dreams. We must always be dreamers in life.”
DC: Immigrants today face many challenges with the new government and the announcement of the cancellation of DACA. What message can we give them?
Bishop Rodriguez: The message of hope. The last word hasn’t been spoken. Governments pass, change, reject laws, make new laws, change them. God is the Lord of history and of the world. His Word invites us to place total confidence in Him. Didn’t Jesus tell us that we’re worth much more than the sparrows and the lilies, which God cares for with such affection and attention? And that not a leaf falls from a tree without God knowing? Life goes on and we can never give up on our dreams. We must always be dreamers in life.
DC: You were recently in Rome at a meeting of new bishops with the Holy Father. What was that experience like? What message did the Pope have for those beginning their episcopal ministry?
Bishop Rodriguez: To be in the presence of the Holy Father always gives you a special sentiment. We know he’s just a man, but at the same time, he somehow makes us feel the presence of Jesus and the Church.
He is a simple man in himself, not pretentious, and [you feel his] closeness. When he greets you, he looks you right in the eye, and makes that fleeting moment into something very personal. When I was standing before him, I took advantage of the moment to thank him for his support for immigrants to the United States.
His message to the new bishops was to be open to the Holy Spirit, who is the One who guides the Church; and openness to new methods, new ideas, new strategies — avoiding rigidity or being closed in on old ways of thinking that no longer correspond to reality.