Dozens of chairs set up outside the tented seating sat wet and empty as rain, cold temperatures, and busy schedules kept expected throngs from crowding into Main Plaza for the funeral of Archbishop Emeritus Patricio “Patrick” Fernandez Flores at San Fernando Cathedral Tuesday afternoon.
Still, faithful devotees of the beloved archbishop – mostly nuns, Catholic brothers, and elderly Hispanics – bundled in jackets and scarves, sang, genuflected, and repeated prayers while watching a simulcast on large video screens. At the start of the ceremony, they watched as around 100 Catholic clergy in ivory vestments lined up along the cathedral, greeted one another, laughed, and talked. The mood seemed festive.
Parishioner Theresa Cuellar recalled how Flores had hugged her after blessing her many years ago, one of her favorite memories.
“He was like that with everyone – so loving,” she said.
Two regally attired members of the Knights of Columbus, yellow plumage fluttering in the wind around their headwear, explained that they and other knights had stood guard for the archbishop as he lay in state in the cathedral earlier in the day and on Monday.
“We’re the visible arm of the church – apostles and protectors,” member Greg Tatum said.
Parishioners held umbrellas high over the cathedral entrance to keep the clergy dry as they entered the building and slowly processed down the central aisle to a hymn sung by choir and congregants in English and Spanish. They bowed to Flores’ coffin, circled the altar, and filled the pews for the mass.
Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, named Flores’ successor in 2010, welcomed family and guests, including Daniel DiNardo, cardinal and bishop of the Archdiocese of Galveston/Houston and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In his welcome, Archbishop Gustavo, as he prefers to be called, acknowledged all who had come to pay their respects to Archbishop Emeritus Flores during the vigil, those sitting outside, and those waiting for the procession and burial. He noted that people from all walks of life wanted to celebrate this “noble and humble mariachi archbishop.”
He recalled that the young Flores and his family of migrant farm workers would stand in a field and pray the rosary for rain for their crops.
“Rain was life,” he said. “So it is especially fitting that we are given this gift from God as we pray thanksgiving for the life of one so beloved to us.”
Judicial Vicar Msgr. Charles Chaffman of San Antonio read a message from Pope Francis, written on his behalf by the Secretary of State of the Vatican Pietro Parolin. The message lauded Flores’ “unfailing concern for the needs of the poor, and his pioneering efforts to promote Hispanic culture and ministry” as well as serving as “a source of spiritual enrichment for the entire church in the United States.”
The thoughts of the popular pope entered later in the service when a tweet he posted earlier in the day was read as part of remarks by Fr. Lawrence Christian, vicar general for the Archdiocese of San Antonio: “Peace is an ‘active virtue,’ one that calls for the engagement and cooperation of each individual and society as a whole.”
“I don’t [know] that he was thinking of Patricio Flores when he composed those 140 characters,” Christian said, “but he certainly captured the meaning of his life. Thank you, Pope Francis.”
Outdoor worshipers patient enough to wait through the half-hour-long eucharist within the cathedral were grateful when Archbishop Gustavo and attending priests came through the building’s grand portal with the chalice of wine and tray of the host. He served the Lord’s Supper at the back of the tent, just short of the drizzle, in an act the mourners likely will never forget.
The funeral’s surprises, sense of love, and the festivity brought on by Flores’ favorite, mariachi music, were leavened by the presence of a long, silver hearse outside the cathedral.
Archbishop Gustavo ended his homily by shouting, “Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe! Viva Cristo Rey!”
The unspoken cheer invigorating the grey afternoon was, “Viva Arzobispo Patricio Flores!”