This was a historical week for the community of El Paso and specifically Juarez, Mexico with the visit by Pope Francis on Wednesday, February 17th. An event of this magnitude is only catalyzed by the large Catholic community on both sides of the borderland. For weeks if not months the region has prepared for the holy visit – not only city departments and schools but churches themselves.
As conduits for the faithful and their devotion to the word of the Lord, churches such as Sacred Heart Parish help to galvanize the prayers of the congregation in anticipation of the historic visit.
We spoke with Pastor Ronald “Ron” Gonzales, 49, of Sacred Heart Parish about the role of the church that happens to represent the same order as Pope Francis himself – the nearly 500 year old Jesuit Order, also known as the Society of Jesus. Never before has there been a Jesuit Pope, and if you have questions about what being a Jesuit means or what Sacred Heart church has to offer the community (El Segundo Barrio), he urges us to, “Come and see.”
Merely a few years ago Father Ron completed a search for his biological Mother, Hermalinda, after decades of wondering about her since discovering that he and his sister were adopted as children. Raised by Cora and Alfonso Gonzales in the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Pastor fully understands the meaning of finding your roots.
Now, firmly planted in the heart of downtown, El Paso at Sacred Heart the Father focuses his attention to tending to the margins. “This church has been here since 1893 and this visit from Pope Francis, has been a reaffirmation for the community, who although may be poor economically, is rich, spiritually,” said Father Ron.
Father Ron reminds us of the kindred life path we share with our sister city. Providing mass at food banks a couple times a week in neighborhoods similar to El Segundo Barrio but in Juarez, he told us, “If you don’t stay a little while and look a little deeper, you’ll only see the surface level. Stay and talk to the people and you’ll hear stories. We may have ‘ideas’ of what this community is, but truly, to look deeper you have to look beyond the dilapidated buildings and just ‘listen.’ They are very trusting, is what I have learned.”
“What I have also discovered is that many have rediscovered this particular church because of roots they have to it and that’s a good thing. Mother Teresa used to say, ‘Come and see.’ Because things are hard to describe unless you are actually here and have skin in the game,” he told us.
“What I’ve been encouraging people to do is to come back, and not forget your roots to complete the pilgrimage. That includes myself – even though I was raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in many ways my roots are more like the people that I’m serving now in El Segundo,” said Father Ron.
Sacred Heart Parish is only one of two Jesuit run parishes in the state of Texas, where there used to be fourteen Jesuit run parishes in El Paso alone. The calling card of Jesuits is education and the encouragement of thinking freely. Father Ron reminds us of the the Jesuit motto, “Finding God in all things.”
Whatever your faith may be the beauty of the creator can be seen in every face along the border community. The struggle is clearly seen in every square block of the community of El Segundo Barrio, but if Father Ron has his way, you will find the deeper beauty by simply spending some time sharing a coffee with some of the congregation. The Papal visit may have reached a fever pitch in both the physical preparation and the spiritual anticipation but the steadfast faith courses strongly in the congregation of the Sacred Heart Parish border community.
For more information about Sacred Heart Parish visit www.sacredheartelpaso.org