During the ordination ceremony last week for his diocese, Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico, made a passionate defense of celibacy, calling it the complete giving of oneself to the priestly ministry and explaining that not everybody can understand it.
“People often say that celibacy, both for men and women, is at odds with the indigenous culture,” said the bishop in his homily. “Perpetual celibacy for the Kingdom of heaven is at odds with every culture, including the Jewish, Greek, Roman, European and Mexican cultures.”
Before a large number of faithful who came to witness the ordination to the priesthood of Manuel Pérez Gómez, a descendent of the Tsotsil Indians, Bishop Arizmendi explained that celibacy “is a gift, a special grace that not everyone can understand or embrace. It is a state of life which the Indians themselves greatly appreciate as a sign of complete giving in service to the community.”
“Jesus Christ chose to be celibate. His mother remained a virgin. Both the apostle John and St. Paul, close collaborators of Jesus, did not marry. St. Paul recommends virginity in order to be completely consecrated to the Lord, without divisions,” the bishop said.
Addressing the new priest, Bishop Arizmendi said, “Manuel, your vocation, therefore, is not to dominate others, nor to become rich, but rather to serve.”
“Do not forget your people and your Tsotsil culture, which are of great value for the Church. Our diocese desires to be faithful to its vocation to live in communion; in other words, common union,” he said.
Likewise he explained that “there are different cultures, different ways of thinking, different ways of living the faith and of evangelizing, but we wish to love each other as brothers and sisters, respecting our legitimate differences, and valuing each other as gifts for the Church.”
“Manuel, ask the Holy Spirit to keep you faithful to your vocation. Ask Him to help you be more like Jesus, the Good Shepherd… And in order to be faithful to your mission, it is most important that you remain constant in prayer and faithful to the Liturgy of the Hours,” the bishop said.
Bishop Arizmendi also said that “Jesus Christ, the eternal high priest, has showed us how to be Christians, catechists, deacons, priests and bishops. Jesus Christ expressed his vocation of service even to the point of dying for us on the cross and remaining with us in the sacraments, to continue living us his life through the Church.”
For this reason, “we have such a great need not only for deacons, but for priests first and foremost, since there are many parishes that have no priest, and others that have no deacons.”
The bishop also said “more sisters and consecrated women are needed, especially from the Indigenous population, so that the maternal aspects of God’s love can be made more present in communities.”
According to Bishop Arizmendi, in the current climate “we need to build bridges of communion rather than disqualifying people, groups or ecclesial movements, because the Holy Spirit leads the Church on the paths He chooses and they don’t always coincide with our own personal preferences. Our diocese wants to be guided by this same Holy Spirit, in order to be faithful to the Gospel.”