Bishop's Interview: Giving thanks for the simple and the extraordinary
Editor: Bishop the month of November is often spent giving thanks for all of our many blessings. What are you personally thankful for this year?
Bishop Vásquez: There is so much to be thankful for this year. First of all I am deeply grateful to God to shepherd and serve the people of this great diocese. I’m also thankful for the excellent priests with whom I work, and dedicated men and women religious, deacons, seminarians and lay faithful who are committed and who are serving in the church in so many different ministries. This local church is very much alive and I thank God for the beauty and gift of this diocese, which is alive, thriving and bringing hope and the message of Christ to others.
I also want to give thanks to God for the ordinary things, such as my wonderful family. I am grateful for my father, brothers, sisters and nieces and nephews. I am grateful for my friends who have walked with me on this journey for many years. I am grateful for the outstanding staff that God has given us here at this Pastoral Center to work with and to be able to serve this growing diocese. Above all, I give thanks to God for the gracious and merciful goodness that he has bestowed upon me.
Editor: What are some of the things that have happened this year for which we give thanks as a diocese?
Bishop Vásquez: 2015 has been a blessed year for our diocese. At the beginning of the year, the Holy Father appointed our first auxiliary bishop, Bishop Danny Garcia. This is a great gift that Pope Francis gave us in recognition of the growth that has taken place here in Central Texas. Bishop Garcia continues to serve alongside me and together we shepherd this diocese. Together we work for the good of the people.
I also want thank God for all the work that has gone in to preparing our Pastoral Plan, which is now being implemented throughout our diocese. It is a simple plan that speaks to our hearts. The plan shares a message of hope and joy as we encounter and help others encounter Christ.
Most recently, I am thankful for the Holy Father’s visit to Cuba and to our nation, which was just an extreme blessing to me. I had the privilege to accompany Pope Francis for part of his travels in Cuba, which was eye- opening for me. I was amazed by the people of that small nation who though experiencing a communist regime for so long have remained people of faith and hope. It was obvious that the faith is alive and well –– I saw it in the elderly, in married couples, and in the young people. The faith continues to grow in the midst of a regime that has not always been favorable. In fact, the Cuban government has been critical and even severe with the church, yet the faith of the people has remained strong.
Then our Holy Father came to our own country and I think he electrified the people here. Believers and non-believers, Catholic and non-Catholic, people of different faiths –– all were attracted to this man who spreads joy and love wherever he goes. Pope Francis was able to present a message of Jesus Christ –– the message of salvation –– in such a way that appealed to many. He demonstrated it in his very simple gestures that spoke to the hearts, the minds and the souls of our country. He is drawn to those who are suffering or in pain or struggling through some illness and I was moved as he reached out and blessed the children who lined the streets. In those days on American soil, Pope Francis shared his great joy with us, which was a beautiful blessing for our country.
Editor: Another big event that happens every November is the kick-off of the Catholic Services Appeal. What is the purpose of the annual appeal?
Bishop Vásquez: The Catholic Services Appeal is the opportunity for the entire diocese to gather together in thanksgiving for our many blessings and to support our diocesan programs and ministries. The annual appeal allows everyone to share in the good work that is taking place in the diocese. There are some simple ways that each family can participate.
Prayer is one of the most profound ways we can support this appeal. Please pray for all of us here in the Diocese of Austin that we may continue to serve faithfully and strengthen our ministries to all in need. Every individual is asked to make a financial contribution to support the annual appeal. Through our sacrifices, we help strengthen Catholic Charities, we help educate our seminarians, and we care for our retired priests.
This diocese is committed to serving the poor, the sick and the needy, which is why this year’s theme is Hands of Mercy. As St. Teresa of Avila said, ours are the hands by which God now blesses us. When we do good works, when we reach out to our brothers and sisters who are suffering or in pain, we are literally the hands, the face, the feet, the heart through which God blesses his people. Through our donations to the Catholic Services Appeal, we can extend the hands of mercy throughout our diocese; therefore, I encourage everyone to participate.
Editor: What is your prayer for this month of thanksgiving?
Bishop Vásquez: My prayer is that all of us would be grateful to God, for the simple, ordinary things and for those extraordinary blessings in our lives. When we are mindful of our blessings, our pain and suffering does not seem so great. We can bring both our blessings and our sufferings before God and present them at the altar in the supreme prayer of thanksgiving –– the Eucharist. For it is in the celebration of the Eucharist that we learn to be grateful. In the Eucharist, we receive the most supreme gift of God who is Jesus. It is in the Eucharist that God transforms our blessings and sufferings into more than we can ever imagine or anticipate. Happy Thanksgiving!