.- On the occasion the beatification of Fr. José Gabriel Brochero of Cordoba, Argentina, known to locals as the “cowboy priest,” Pope Francis praised him for his open heart.
“Brochero was a normal man, fragile, like any of us,” said Pope Francis. But his greatness came from the fact that, “he knew the love of Jesus. He let his heart be touched by the mercy of God.”
Born in 1840 and ordained to the priesthood at age 26, Fr. Brochero was known for traversing his mountainous parish by mule to bring the gospel and sacraments to the people of Cordoba.
Pope Francis confirmed this image of the priest in his letter to Archbishop José María Arancedo, President of the Argentian Bishop’s Conference, on the occasion of Fr. Brochero’s beatification.
The Pope said that for the people of his parish, receiving a visit from Fr. Brochero was like “a visit from Jesus to each family.”
When visiting his parishioners, the Pope described how the priest would bring the image of the Virgin Mary and his Mass kit and prayer book.
While explaining the faith he would “speak in a way that everyone could understand because what he said about the faith and love that he had toward Jesus would come directly from his heart.”
His apostolic courage is an important witness for missionaries today, noted the Holy Father.
“Brochero did not stay in the parish offices: he would exhaust himself riding his mule and he ended up being sick with leprosy.”
He was faithful to the end, continuing to “pray and celebrate Mass even as a blind leper.”
He was well known for his aid to the sick and dying, particularly in the cholera epidemic of 1867 that devastated the city of Cordoba.
In late 1869, he was assigned to the parish of St. Albert, which extended over a region of 4,336 square kilometers.
The impoverished population of 10,000 who made up the parish had no roads or schools. Unable to be reached by the wider world, they were, according to Fr. Brochero, “abandoned by everyone but not by God.”
Early in his time at St. Albert, Fr. Brochero led a group of people over the dangerous Sierra Mountains to the city of Cordoba for a retreat of Spiritual Exercises with the Jesuits.
Although the journey was perilous due to intense snowstorms, it bore great spiritual fruit in the life of the people.
In addition to his people’s spiritual growth, the priest sought his flock’s social progress and worked to build local schools, construct paths for transportation, and even convinced the local authorities to provide postal and telegraph couriers.
An 1887 article in a local Cordoba newspaper described him as an exceptional priest whose work was not limited to preaching.
“He practices the gospel. Are you missing a carpenter? He’s a carpenter. Are you missing a laborer? He’s a laborer. He rolls up his cassock wherever he is, takes the shovel or hoe and opens a public road in 15 days aided by his parishioners,” the article said.
Fr. Brochero died in 1914.