Primeramente quiero compartir los más sinceros sentimientos con toda la familia Flores, su hermana, cuñado, y los sobrinos que están aquí con nosotros esta noche. Muchas veces el Arzobispo reunió con mi familia para la Navidad, el Día de Gracias e otros dias festivos. Mis hermanas, sus familias y su servidor siempre vimos a el como familia. Cuando estábamos alrededor de la mesa siempre el decía que no era tan importante lo que estaba sobre la mesa, pero mas bien los que estaban alrededor.
Lo que celebramos con su vida esta noche es celebrar como familia. Nuestro padre ya nos dejó, pero nos está esperando en la mesa celestial donde todos nosotros vamos a seguir la fiesta.
There is a story Archbishop Flores loved to tell when he first arrived in San Antonio and I heard it often. About a little boy with an interesting name, who attended a Catholic school. He was supposedly named after an obscure Irish saint called Dammett.
Now little Dammett was not the brightest light in the room, or as we would say in South Texas, he was one enchilada short of a combination plate. Sister Mary, his teacher, had to adjust to his name as she would say, “Dammett do this. Dammet sit down. Dammett be quiet.” But she got used to it. One day the pastor came in for a visit and started asking the children various questions about religion, making sister very nervous. He asked a particularly hard one that no one could answer.
Suddenly little Dammett raised his hand. Sister immediately said, “Dammett, you don’t know the answer, put your hand down.”
The pastor jumped in and replied, “Hell, Sister, give him a chance.”
If there is one thing Archbishop Flores was about, it was to give people a chance, especially those that no one else wanted to give a chance to. He lifted up those that were put down by others. He supported the gifts that every person has from God. He was always about the urgent task of Jesus, namely to bring “Good News to the Poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…” – Lk 4:18
He paid a heavy price for this commitment to follow in the steps of Jesus, Jesus, the one who was constantly rejected for following this call. For the Archbishop his was a life of sacrificial service for all, but especially the poor, the vulnerable, those on the margins, or as Pope Francis refers to them, “en las periferias,” the outskirts of society, out of the way of most people.
Those of us who visited the Archbishop these last years knew he was developing dementia. He was always one to greet you with: “Dónde has estado?” and when you asked him how he was doing he would often answer: “Más fregado que nunca.”
He slowly lost the ability to remember who we were. I remember a few years ago as he was starting to fail to recognize me, I asked him, “Who am I? Quién soy yo?” He looked hard at me for a few minutes and then responded, “Jesus Garcia.” Well, he got the Garcia part right, and actually I don’t mind being called Jesus, but as I thought about it I realized that maybe Patricio Flores was calling on me to follow Jesus more closely, to imitate Jesus, to be Jesus for others.
That certainly was what he showed me by his life, so why not challenge me to do it?
Archbishop Flores lifted up all. Maybe it was partly because others had given him a chance and had lifted him up. Born into a poor family, he was a migrant farmworker picking cotton in the panhandle of Texas. A high school dropout, he was given a second chance to finish and then enter the seminary, at a time when many Hispanics were not welcomed there.
Sr. Mary Benitia Vermeersch, CDP, foundress of the Missionary Catechists of Divine Providence, took a special interest in him and introduced him to the bishop of Galveston, who pretty much accepted him on her word. She was one tough religious woman who worked among Hispanics for most of her life. She knew Patrick Flores very well.
Today, entrance to the seminary requires lots of recommendations, psychological testing, and observing the candidate over a period of time. But the bishop knew as many others of us men in the Church have learned, when a strong and determined woman makes up her mind, just say, ‘Yes.’ It works out better that way. As the only boy in my family with five sisters I learned that early on.
As a young priest, Patricio Flores experienced discrimination, even in the Church, being forbidden to use Spanish in ministry except hearing confessions. Undeterred, he did what he needed to do and the people fell in love with the young charismatic priest, which was a pattern repeated in every one of his assignments.
I first met him in 1968, when some Mexican-American priests from around the state gathered at the old La Salle High School on the Southside to found a new organization of native Hispanic clergy called PADRES. Among the goals they had was the naming of Hispanic bishops. Little did he know then, he would be the first.
That naming as bishop in 1970 came at a pivotal moment in the history of the Church and the nation. The Church was in the first years of the post conciliar era after Vatican II. It was both exciting and at times tumultuous. We were experimenting with liturgy, many other ministries, and Church structures in an effort to make them more meaningful, effective and inspiring to the modern world. Many previous assumptions were up for question. It caused consternation among some, but not for Patricio Flores, who embraced the Vatican II spirit of openness, engagement, and even taking risks.
It was also a time of social upheaval in our country, two years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who we celebrate today. César Chavez, who met with Archbishop Flores many times, was organizing farmworkers. There had been riots in cities, demonstrations on campuses especially against the Vietnam War, and a real struggle in politics as to where this country was going to go.
I remember as a college and grad student both at St Mary’s and Notre Dame being challenged to be aware of the rapid pace of change, of society’s problems, to take a stand and put values into action. In many ways we had to become citizens of the world.
Into this stepped Patricio Flores, de facto leader of millions of Hispanic Catholics throughout the country. He slowly realized what his naming meant to them and so many others, yet in his typical humility he simply responded to the many calls for his presence all over the nation as a caring pastor. He never limited his service to just Latinos, even though the needs there were overwhelming. It would be a challenge he would live out the rest of his life.
Patricio Flores early on lobbied for more Hispanic bishops. Once at a bishops meeting, one bishop told him, “Bishop Flores, we want to name Hispanic bishops but we can’t find any qualified Hispanic priests.” Flores, undaunted, replied immediately, “Well, looking around this room now, it’s hard to figure out what are the qualifications.”
I was privileged to live out my deacon internship year as well as my first few years of priesthood at Immaculate Conception Church, living with then Auxiliary Bishop Flores on the near-Westside in the stockyards area, in a neighborhood nicknamed “La Tripa.”
To my surprise, as I arrived, I observed the bishop taking communion calls to the sick in the barrio. I remember thinking, “Wow, a bishop doing communion calls.” He would cut the grass across the street from the rectory where an illegal junk yard owned by someone in another part of town had been allowed to exist for years. That, as well as floods and poor schools, were the genesis of his founding of COPS along with other interfaith leaders. That effort proved to be a huge change for Westsiders and Southsiders and the whole city, as people who had been excluded from decision making in our community took their rightful place at the table.
Pope Francis caused headlines when he challenged the clergy to “smell like the sheep.” It is a serious concern for all of us, as it is too easy to get busy with so many responsibilities, that we effectively lose the closeness and contact with our people. Patricio Flores never let his high office separate him from the sheep.
Archbishop Flores believed in empowering people. He believed that God spreads gifts around to all, and these gifts are meant for the entire community. A recurring phrase he used often for people making suggestions as to what we could do in the church or in the community, was “Go ahead! Try it!” Not one to micromanage, he truly would give you the support when he gave you the job.
Those of us involved in the visit of Pope John Paul to San Antonio certainly felt that support and that freedom to get the job done as we saw it. The restoration of this cathedral and expansion of its facilities and services would not have happened without that same support I always felt, even when we were under attack by a few for “ruining the cathedral.” He stood by the project and all of us involved in leading it, and the result in the end was even praised by the same critics who had previously condemned us.
The Gospel reading we have just heard symbolizes what Patricio Flores constantly taught with his life. Probably the best known of all the parables, the Good Samaritan story is told by Jesus as an example of the great commandment to love God and love thy neighbor. In answering the question about the greatest commandment, Jesus was really reiterating the covenant relationship established between God and the chosen people after the Exodus, namely that God would be their God and they would be God’s people, and the way they would show God their love for God would be by loving one another and loving and respecting all creation.
When the question about who is my neighbor was asked, those around Jesus would have expected a narrow answer, namely, “The neighbor is someone like me, an Israelite.” Instead Jesus’ story had some challenging twists and turns.
The fact that the hated Samaritan, a foreigner, would turn out to be observing the covenant more than the priest or levite infuriated those listening. But there are two other interesting aspects worth noting in the way Jesus told the story. First, there was a detail that the victim who had been assaulted not only was thrown to the side of the road, but was stripped, pretty much naked. That note was crucial to the story since clothes were a sign of status and having no clothes meant it was impossible to know if this was a person important in society or maybe someone poor and supposedly insignificant. Jesus is telling us that we are not to help someone because of their position, but simply because they are in need.
The second detail is also critical. Many parables are designed to force the listener to choose a character in the story to identify with. Most of those around Jesus would have been fairly simple, uneducated people. There was no way they would identify with a priest or levite, both influential leaders in society. Neither would the listeners want to identify with the Samaritan, a foreigner they had been taught to hate from childhood.
So who was left to identify with? The victim, badly beaten and half dead at the side of the road. If that were you, who would you want to be your neighbor? The answer would be anyone. Anyone who would help, assist, pull me back from the brink. So, if that is true, namely that anyone can save your life and be your neighbor when you are most in need, then why would you ever have an enemy? Which is the moral of the parable. Everyone is neighbor and I am called to be neighbor to everyone, regardless of class, color, or nationality.
That moral was what guided Patricio Flores’ life. His was the life of the Good Samaritan, always reaching out to help anyone, especially the most needy.
Archbishop was a master storyteller. Anyone whoever sat with him at table, whether in his apartment for breakfast where he made the best machacado con huevo tacos in the city, or out in a parish meal or other event, inevitably would hear story after story after story, all entertaining, many funny, and often laced with a moral or two.
Today we are the storytellers. Today we are telling the story of Patricio Flores, a parable with a moral, with something to learn and something to live and someone to identify with. Today take his story, learn from it, be generous, be caring, be compassionate, be just, be of good humor and make his story also a part of your story going forth.
At every one of my visits to him at Padua Place, I would always ask for a blessing before I left. Often, because he had lost most of his hearing, I would simply get in front of him and make the sign of the cross showing him that is what I wanted from him.
Even when he did not know any more who I was, even this last visit I made to him just before Christmas when I took him some buñuelos, he responded immediately to what would be the final gift he would give me – his blessing. I will treasure that moment in my memory.
Tonight he is giving all of us that blessing, the blessing of his life, a life well lived, an inspiring life of following Jesus and being Jesus for others.
Thanks be to God who gave us this Good Samaritan, this Good Shepherd to show us how to love God, each other, and all of creation.
Patricio Fernandez Flores, descanse en paz.