LAS CRUCES — Retiring Bishop Ricardo Ramirez called it a “historic moment” Thursday as he introduced his successor, 46-year-old Bishop Oscar Cantú, only the second man to head the Diocese of Las Cruces since its establishment in 1982.
Cantú, an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Texas, is expected to be formally installed in about six weeks as bishop of the southern New Mexico diocese that covers 10 counties. He was introduced during an event that was part farewell to Ramirez, 76, and part welcome to Cantú.
“Let me say how deeply humbling this appointment is to me,” Cantú said during a news conference at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
“There’s a deep sense of being sent — sent as the apostles were sent by Christ to announce the good news of the gospel to the four corners of the Earth . . . though I do not pretend to bring a new gospel, or a new message. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. . . . God’s message is ever ancient, but always new.”
Ramirez, who announced his retirement last year, flashed his trademark sense of humor during the announcement of a decision made by Pope Benedict XVI. But, on a serious note, Ramirez said, “I want to tell you, whom I have served to the best of my ability for the past 30-plus years, that I love you with all my heart. . . . I want to thank you for allowing me to lead you as your shepherd and, with your generous collaboration, as we went from a very modest beginning as a diocese to the unified and strong and vibrant church that we enjoy today.”
Ramirez said that Cantú has “impeccable credentials,” having earned a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and, before that, master’s degrees in divinity and in theological studies from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, which Ramirez also attended. Cantú, the son of immigrants from small towns near Monterrey, Mexico, is fluent in Spanish, Italian and French.
Ramirez also noted that the pair have several other things in common “beside being short.” Both men are natives of what is now the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, both were appointed auxiliary bishops in San Antonio before being assigned to head the Las Cruces diocese, and Ramirez said Cantú was pastor to his family at the Holy Name Parish in Houston.
“You are now a New Mexican,” Ramirez joked, before presenting Cantú with a gift of a cross of silver and turquoise. “It’s a step up from being a Texan.”
Cantú joked back with Ramirez, whom he said he had long respected. Noting Ramirez was born in Bay City, Texas, he quipped, “Maybe you asked yourself, ‘What good can come out of Bay City, Texas?’ ”
Addressing a small gathering, Cantú continued, “But you have discovered that as your pastor, he (Ramirez) has been a man of deep love for Christ and of deep love for the people he shepherds. I am humbled to follow such a man.”
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal