When he learned he would lead the El Paso Catholic Diocese about a week ago,
Bishop Mark J. Seitz's first reaction was "Wow."
Monday morning, it was Seitz who easily wowed El Pasoans in his first interaction with members of the diocesan pastoral center in the Lower Valley.
"I'd like to begin by thanking Pope Francis for having the confidence he has placed in me to serve this diocese with so much history. ... Life is full of surprises. I grew up in Wisconsin and entered the seminary in Dallas, thinking I would return in a couple of years -- but I fell in love with Texas," said Seitz, who comes to El Paso from Dallas.
Bishop Armando X. Ochoa, apostolic administrator for the El Paso diocese, introduced Seitz to a room filled with priests, nuns, diocesan staff and members of the media. It was a morning of nonstop smiles for a diocese that has been without an official shepherd for 16 months.
The new and energetic bishop impressed
everyone with a natural charisma, often making the pastoral center crowd break into laughter or applause with his comments, such as "I love Mexican food."
But he also expressed an admirable humility, stating he wants to follow the pope's example in living a simple life. When asked about donating a kidney to a parishioner, he seemed almost sheepish, making sure to note that people have two and we only need one.
And Seitz didn't break a sweat when reporters continuously asked him to speak in English and then translate in Spanish or vice versa. He good-naturedly obliged.
Anita Marta, Spanish editor of the Rio Grande Catholic, felt honored to meet Seitz and hear him share his enthusiasm about coming to El Paso and leading 660,000 Catholics. Formerly the auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, Seitz will fly back Wednesday until he returns for his installation Mass in June or July.
"I can tell he's a people person and that he will be able to relate to our community very easily," Marta said. "He already has it in his mind that we are a diverse community, and I think it's so cute that he said he loves Mexican food but couldn't pick his favorite dish."
She added, "He's going to be a blessing
for the diocese. He has already united us in that room."
Originally from Milwaukee, Seitz was the oldest of 10 children and raised in a traditional church-going family. He said he knew he wanted to be a priest since as long as he can remember and related a story of when he was 8 years old, in a private interview.
"I woke up and was in a thoughtful mood and thought about what I wanted to be," he said.
Seitz said his thoughts ventured from saving lives as a fireman and a doctor to being a priest, and even being all three.
"But then I thought if I were a fireman or doctor, I could save people but they are still going to die. So why not be a priest so that I could save people and they could live forever," he said.
His family supported his wishes but never pushed him and in 1972 he entered Holy Trinity Seminary at the University of Dallas. He earned both bachelor's and master's degrees at the university.
"When I entered the seminary, it was like I was home. I found a whole group of people who shared my ideals. It was one of the best learning experiences of my life," he said.
Seitz was ordained to the priesthood in 1980 and served in several Catholic churches in Dallas.
When he was ordained Auxiliary Bishop by Bishop Kevin J. Farrell three years ago, Seitz said Farrell told him he was going to turn "his life upside down."
"Since that time, I have begun to like being upside down because I have found that the Lord is with me," Seitz said.
In his talk at the diocese, Seitz continually conveyed his joy of serving the Lord, often referring to it as a "fulfilling life."
When asked by reporters about the shortage of priests in the El Paso diocese, Seitz first joked that he would be willing to stand on the highways and byways looking for candidates.
But then, seriously, he said more must be done to promote religious vocations and sharing the big secret, which is that a religious life is a joyful one and one full of surprises.
"I couldn't imagine a more fulfilling life to be the one" that people come to in times of need or despair, he said, adding that priests always have had a large extended family in their parishioners.
He said he believes in serving with no bias but then said he had a preference for the poor and that he would do his best to emulate Francis. He said priests should never live beyond the means of the people they serve.
"The new pope is really challenging us, isn't he," Seitz said. "He's showing us that there is a different way that we can live in the church and that we don't have to do everything the way it's always been done. There's a saying in Latin -- the Ecclesia semper reformanda est -- which means the church is always reforming."
Marco Raposo, diocesan director of the Peace and Justice Ministry, said Seitz is a good role model for area Catholics.
"I'm thrilled to be able to work with him. I like that he wants to follow Pope Francis' model and I think it's important in our region," Raposo said.
In his introduction, Ochoa credited Seitz for working closely with those who have been affected by sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
"He is very sensitive to victims and survivors," Ochoa said.
Seitz said he recognizes that the sexual abuse scandal has shaken people's faith and hurt the Catholic Church.
"I'm not afraid to be in difficult situations with people and in their lives at that moment," he said. "There was one particular family that it came out that their daughter had been abused when she was in high school. And so I had the opportunity to walk with them through that .... and it broke my heart. It almost brings me to tears now; they were such a wonderful family. But I feel so privileged that they were able to come to me and talk to me and put their trust in me when they didn't know where to turn."
Seitz took Spanish lessons but most of his education has been through language immersion including working with a sister church in Nuevo Leon, Mexico.
While he apologized for his Spanish and encouraged people to correct him, he spoke eloquently en espanol about serving the Hispanic community in Dallas and looking forward to doing it in El Paso.
In order to get a better insight into Catholics in Latin America, Seitz said he lived for two months in Trujillo, Honduras, during a sabbatical in 2002.
"It really gave me a better understanding of why people will pick up and risk their lives to come here. I saw it from the other side -- so many broken families, people who just wanted water and a decent standard of living," he said.
Monsignor Arturo Banuelas of St. Pius X Catholic Church walked out of the room at the pastoral center with a big smile and confidence that the Cath- olic community here is about to get a boost.
"It's a great year for the Catholic diocese in El Paso," he said. "We have a great pope and now we have a great bishop."
About Bishop Mark J. Seitz
-- Name: Mark J. Seitz.
-- Age: 59.
-- Education: He has a bachelor's in philosophy and master's of divinity from the University of Dallas. He also has a master's in theology and a master's in liturgical studies.
-- Ordination: Ordained to priesthood in 1980; ordained auxiliary bishop of Diocese of Dallas in 2010.
-- Past assignments: Pastor of several churches over the years, including St. Rita Catholic Church from 2003-2010.
-- Pastime: Camping and anything outdoors. He would rather camp out in the Big Bend than stay in a five-star hotel in New York City.
(c)2013 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)
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