New Las Cruces bishop urges transformation through Jesus
Bishop Oscar Cantu. Credit: Rendon Photography & Fine Art, courtesy of Archdiocese of San Antonio.
Bishop Oscar Cantu. Credit: Rendon Photography & Fine Art, courtesy of Archdiocese of San Antonio.
By Kevin J. Jones
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.- Bishop Oscar Cantú became head of the Diocese of Las Cruces, N.M. on Feb. 28, using his homily to encourage the faithful to trust in the power of God to transform their lives and their cultures.

“While the world and its culture have changed tremendously in recent decades, what hasn’t changed is the human heart,” the 46-year-old said in his bilingual installation Mass homily. “The human heart still longs for love, still seeks the truth and still yearns to experience beauty.”

“Jesus wants to show the world the beauty and love of his Sacred Heart, and invites the world to discover the fullness of this truth.”

Bishop Cantú’s installation took place at the Las Cruces Convention Center. Over 1,000 people, including several bishops and many priests, attended the Mass. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the apostolic nuncio to the U.S., read Pope Benedict XVI’s letter appointing Bishop Cantú to the diocese.

The music of the liturgy had a distinctive Mexican style, a good fit for a predominantly Hispanic diocese located on the Mexican border.

Bishop Cantú reflected on the statues and images of his childhood home, especially a “captivating” statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

It was “warm in its colors” and invited the viewer to “focus on the visible heart of Jesus, pieced by a crown of thorns, yet aflame with love.” The statue of Jesus pointed to its heart “as if inviting me to a dialogue with him.”

He said that for him these images were “an important part of piecing together the beauty of the faith.”

Drawing on this example of how this image affected him, Bishop Cantú said the new evangelization faces the challenge of modern culture.

“How is it that we transmit faith in a world that is so changed from the one in which you and I grew up?” he asked.

In answer, the bishop cited St. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy “never to be ashamed of his testimony to the Lord.”

“I believe that God urges us all to be strong, loving and wise in the Lord,” he said. “The Lord encourages the Church today to stir into flame the gift God has given us: the gift of faith.”

He urged Catholics to engage in personal prayer to study and reflect on the faith. He asked them to live out their faith in daily life despite the pressures to abandon the faith that is “nurtured in our homes and parishes.”

“The Christian faith is rich in history and promise. But most of all, in transforming and loving grace,” he said.

Bishop Cantú succeeds Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, 76, who headed the Diocese of Las Cruces from its creation in 1982 until Pope Benedict XVI accepted his retirement in January 2013.

The new Bishop of Las Cruces thanked Bishop Ramirez and prayed that God “bless and reward him for his tireless labor.”

The bishop closed his homily in Spanish, asking prayers from the Virgin of Guadalupe and entrusting himself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Bishop Cantú has served as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of San Antonio since 2008. He was born in Houston and is the fifth of eight children. His parents were natives of small towns near Monterey, Mexico. He was ordained a priest in May 1994 and served as pastor of Houston’s Holy Name Catholic Church, his childhood parish.

Several of his family members attended the Mass.

Leticia Ramírez, the bishop’s older sister, told the Las Cruces Sun-News that her brother is very gentle and a people person.

“I think it's an honor for our family but more than anything a blessing and a great responsibility for him to be the shepherd for the people of Las Cruces,” she said.

Bishop Cantú’s older brother included people of the diocese to invite the bishop to dinner.

“We always had priests over to our house and that was a big influence on Oscar, on all of us,” he said.

The bishop has a licentiate in sacred  theology and a doctorate of sacred theology in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He is fluent in English, Spanish, Italian and French.

The Diocese of Las Cruces, which was established in 1982, is home to 132,646 Catholics, 81 priests, 38 permanent deacons and 82 religious.

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