LAS CRUCES — While the worldwide Roman Catholic Church found itself without a pope Thursday following the retirement of Benedict XVI, the Diocese of Las Cruces formally installed its new head, Bishop Oscar Cantú.
Cantú, the 46-year-old former auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of San Antonio, formally accepted his appointment as the second bishop of the southern New Mexico diocese, and the youngest in the U.S., during an elaborate two-hour-long Mass held at the Las Cruces Convention Center.
Cantú succeeds retiring Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, 76, who headed the 10-county diocese since its formation in 1982.
During the ceremony, attended by more than three dozen bishops and more than 100 priests and deacons, Cantú received his miter, a peaked hat worn by bishops, and a crosier, a crooked wooden staff that represents the priest’s role of shepherd to his flock.
In a homily during a Mass attended by more than 1,000 people, Cantú said it was the role of pastors to “feed the Lord’s sheep” with Jesus Christ’s “life-giving words, by his loving and abiding presence, by that true bread of life come down from Heaven.”
Cantú called on “my closest collaborators in this ministry, my priests, to help in guarding the rich deposit of faith, in all its integrity, its beauty and richness.”
Cantú, born in Houston, the fifth of eight children raised by Mexican immigrants from small villages near Monterrey, was ordained a priest in May 1994. An article in the February issue of the diocesan newsletter Agua Viva says Cantú is expected to focus on social justice and family life, ecumenism and education, and the challenges faced by the immigrant community.
“It was very moving, very emotional, because it happened at the same as our Holy Father resigned,” said Chamberino resident Toni Jacquez following the installation ceremony. “It’s like a new life. We want to welcome him.”
Jessie Gomez, a 27-year-old who attended the ceremony to say good-bye to Ramirez, a man she described as a good friend, expressed excitement at the prospect of Cantú’s leadership. “It’s so nice to have someone that I can grow up with,” Gomez said. “We’re making history here.”
Addressing a packed crowd, some of whom arrived from across the diocese to attend the installation, Cantú thanked his predecessor, Ramirez, the diocese’s head for more than 30 years, for his kindness and support during a transition that began with the January announcement of Cantú’s appointment by Pope Benedict.
During the installation ceremony, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the apostolic nuncio or papal representative to the United States, formally asked Cantú if he accepted the appointment as bishop. When Cantú said he did, the assembly chanted, “Thanks be to God.”
Cantú and Ramirez were joined in the ceremony by Archbishop Michael Sheehan, head of the Santa Fe Diocese. — This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal