Bishop's Interview: The process of moving from priest to bishop
Editor: Bishop, on Jan. 27 Msgr. Mike Sis was ordained and installed as the bishop of San Angelo. With the appointment, the process of how a bishop is named and the vocation of a bishop comes to mind. What is the role of the bishop?
Bishop Vásquez: The vocation of the bishop is to follow in the footsteps of the apostles as Christ called the apostles personally to follow him. Bishops continue the work that Christ entrusted to the apostles; bishops are considered the successors of the apostles. Blessed John Paul II wrote in the “Pastores Gregis” that bishops are to exercise the ministry of leading the church “as pastors and true fathers.” In doing so, he wrote, “we have the task of gathering together the family of the faithful and in fostering charity and brotherly communion.”
The word “bishop” comes from a Greek word, “episkopos” and it means to watch over or to care for others. So a bishop in many ways is an overseer. A bishop is entrusted with the care of the sheep of that diocese and is sent to supervise, care for and maintain union in the diocese to which he is appointed. As a bishop, I am called to serve the people of God in this particular church, which is called a diocese.
A bishop supervises the care of the people of his diocese in three primary ways –– as teacher, as sanctifier and as chief shepherd. Our role as teacher involves educating the flock about the Catholic faith and helping people understand the Catholic faith. This is why I do this interview and compose various letters. It is my responsibility to instruct the people to understand what the church believes and teaches.
The bishop’s role as sanctifier means that I make sure the sacraments are exercised and offered. One of the primary roles that I have as bishop is celebrating the sacrament of Confirmation. I travel throughout the diocese to confirm our youth and adults in the Catholic faith. My role is to ask God to send his Holy Spirit upon the young people or adults, so that they become witnesses of Jesus Christ in the world. The bishop is the chief liturgist of the diocese; therefore, he should exemplify the love, devotion, the reverence, the care, decorum in celebration of all of the sacraments.
The bishop’s sacramental role is important because he is the one who is called to celebrate the sacraments for the people. Now he cannot do that at every place. In the very beginning when the church was smaller, the bishop himself would celebrate Mass for all the people. Now, we have priests, who are co-workers with the bishop; in union with the bishop, they are ordained to preach the Gospel, celebrate the sacraments and shepherd the faithful.
The bishop is also called to shepherd or govern the people of God. As our Holy Father has told us, we are called to serve God’s people. We do this by following Jesus’ example of servant leadership. The bishop’s role is to serve the needs of the people in the diocese. Here it is important to note that a bishop is not just responsible for the Catholics of the diocese, but he is also responsible for the well-being of all of the people in his diocese. This is why bishops speak out on such a wide array of topics, like immigration and just wages and the sanctity of life. Our responsibility is to educate all people about these issues.
Editor: How is a bishop selected?
Bishop Vásquez: The only one who can name a bishop is the pope. At the diocesan level, bishops, priests and the laity can recommend the names of priests who they think have the qualities that would be good in service of the whole church as a bishop. Those names are sent to Rome, but the final decision is made by the Holy Father.
Editor: What are some of the qualities that you think make a good bishop?
Bishop Vásquez: Some of the qualities we look for in a bishop would be a man of holiness, a man who prays, a man who loves his priests, a man who loves to be with the people and desires to serve them. Of course, a bishop is also aware of the signs of the times and what is going on in the world today. He is a person who loves the poor and promotes vocations. This man should have a heart like the heart of the Good Shepherd –– he must love Jesus Christ and love the people.
Editor: Describe the rite of installation and ordination.
Bishop Vásquez: It is a beautiful ceremony in which the bishop receives, first of all, the invocation of the Holy Spirit in the laying on of hands. Three bishops consecrate or bless the new bishop –– usually the archbishop of the metropolitan (in Bishop Sis’ ceremony this was Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio), the out-going bishop of the diocese (Bishop Michael Pfeiffer), and the bishop from the diocese that is sending the priest to become the bishop (me, the bishop of Austin).
Bishop Sis was anointed with Chrism, which is a sign that the person has been given the Spirit to be able to exercise his new duties and responsibilities as bishop. Then he was given certain regalia that indicates his role as a bishop. He was given a ring, which is a sign of his love for the church and to protect and defend the church and to serve her well. He was also given a miter, which is a sign of his authority to exercise his role as bishop, and a shepherd’s staff, or crozier, which is a sign of guiding, shepherding, defending and protecting the church.
I was overjoyed to see the outpouring of support for Bishop Sis at his installation in San Angelo. Many people from our diocese traveled to San Angelo to wish him well and many people from the Diocese of San Angelo were there to welcome him. It was a blessed day!
Editor: You briefly mentioned that the San Angelo Diocese is in the metropolitan of the Archdiocese of San Antonio. Explain the relationship between the dioceses and their metropolitan.
Bishop Vásquez: There are 15 dioceses in the state of Texas. The dioceses of Austin, Beaumont, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Tyler and Victoria are in the metropolitan of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. The dioceses of Amarillo, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Laredo, Lubbock and San Angelo are in the metropolitan of the Archdiocese of San Antonio. I think it is important to say that when the pope appoints a bishop, the bishop is primarily responsible to the pope, not to the archbishop. The diocesan bishop is directly responsible to the pope, but he works within a structure and that structure is this archdiocesan structure, which makes it easier for bishops to come together to discuss regional topics. Generally, the archbishop of a certain region calls the bishops together to respond to common issues and needs of the people.
Editor: As a son of the Diocese of San Angelo who has many family members and friends living there, how has Bishop Sis been welcomed?
Bishop Vásquez: The people are truly blessed with Bishop Sis and they have already received him with open arms. The people of West Texas are very friendly. I have heard many comments from people, both laity and clergy, telling me how excited they are and they are so happy to have Bishop Sis as their spiritual leader. Having worked in close collaboration with Bishop Sis for several years, I am very proud because I know that the Diocese of Austin prepared and formed him well to serve the people of God there.
San Angelo is definitely a different type of diocese than is Austin. It is a more rural diocese and more than 30,000 square miles, which Bishop Sis will come to know well in the months and years to come.
Editor: Bishop Sis’ departure leaves a hole in our diocese. How will a new Vicar General be selected?
Bishop Vásquez: It is my responsibility now to select a new Vicar General. With much prayer and reflection, I will select a priest who will help me carry out my function as bishop. I ask the whole diocese to pray for me as I select a man who will help us move the Austin Diocese forward and carry on the duties and responsibilities of Vicar General. The selection process requires time, thought and prayer.
Editor: On that note, what is your prayer as we go forward from this point?
Bishop Vásquez: My prayer is one of thanksgiving. I am thankful to God that Bishop Sis, a priest of the Diocese of Austin, was selected to be a bishop in the church. That brings me great joy and I am very proud! I ask the people to pray for Bishop Sis, to pray for his diocese and his ministry, to pray for our own particular diocese, and to be thankful to God that we again have given the church another one of our priests who now is a bishop to serve the needs of the whole church.