By Tony Gutiérrez
Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup, New Mexico, said he was “elated” when he heard the news of Jesuit Father Eusebio Kino, the Apostle to Arizona, being named Venerable by Pope Francis July 10, bringing him one step closer to sainthood.
“When you grow up in Arizona, he’s one of the figures you learned about as a kid, junior high, high school, even in college,” said Bishop Wall, who was born in Ganado, Arizona. His family later moved to Chinle, where the entire family became Catholic, before settling in Chandler.
“When I heard the news, I was super excited because I was waiting for this to happen,” added the bishop. “He’s one of the heroes of our faith.”
Bishop Wall is the only active bishop in the United States who was born and raised in Arizona. Before becoming a bishop, he had served as priest in the Diocese of Phoenix, where his last role was as Vicar for Priests. A Jesuit priest, Fr. Anthony Corcoran, was born in Tucson and currently serves as apostolic administrator of the Church in Kyrgyzstan.
Bishop Wall referred to Padre Kino, as the early missionary was known, as “THE historic figure of Arizona,” noting that when looking up the names of important figures in state history, “it always starts with Padre Kino.”
“When you’re young and you’re in school and you’re learning about this man, not only is this historic figure important to the state, but he’s a Catholic priest,” added the bishop. “And (as a small boy) I’m Catholic, so I’ve got this icon, someone I can emulate.”
Padre Kino was born Eusebio Chini Aug. 10, 1645, in Segno, Italy, a small town in the Tyrolese Alps, he entered the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, Nov. 20, 1665. After his ordination June 12, 1677, he set out for Mexico in 1678. Known as “the padre on horseback,” Fr. Chini, who Hispanicized his surname to “Kino” is believed to have traveled roughly 50,000 miles, and he became the first to map Pimería Alta — an area that now includes southern Arizona and Sonora in northern Mexico.
For Bishop Wall, the iconic image of Padre Kino is the painting depicting him on horseback by Arizona impressionist Ettore DeGrazia (1909-1982).
“He’s the priest on horseback. For every little boy, that’s something that’s super cool,” the bishop said.
Padre Kino celebrated the first Mass in present-day Arizona at what is now the Tumacacori National Park in January 1691. From there he went on to establish the San Xavier del Bac Mission, just south of present-day Tucson, in 1692.
Bishop Wall noted that Padre Kino didn’t impose a European system on the Native Americans he encountered, but rather showed a great appreciation for their culture, language and way of life.
“He illuminated their culture with the light of the Gospel,” he said. “With him, he wasn’t distant. He was amongst them, he taught them in their own language.”
Padre Kino’s work among the Native Americans is particularly inspiring for Bishop Wall, whose diocese was established in 1939 as the only diocese specifically established to serve Native Americans in the United States.
Ven. Eusebio Kino, SJ
Aug. 10, 1645:
Born in Segno, Italy
Nov. 20, 1665:
Entered Society of Jesus (Jesuits)
June 12, 1677:
Ordained a priest
Celebrated first Catholic Mass in Arizona at San José de Tumacácori Mission
March 15, 1711:
Passed into eternal life
May 4, 2006:
Named “Servant of God”
July 10, 2020:
“He’s a good and faithful Catholic who showed the love of Jesus Christ to the indigenous people,” the bishop said, adding that Padre Kino’s example inspires him to “minister to the people, try not to be distant, but be amongst them.”
In the current “cancel culture” that seeks to blame early missionaries for mistreatment of Native Americans, Bishop Wall said it was these priests like Padre Kino and St. Junípero Serra in California that stood up for their rights.
“There’s a tendency in our society to lump everybody together, to take the status of Junípero Serra or take the statue of Padre Kino, and to lump them in with these Confederate statues. That’s not only an injustice to these men, but to history,” the bishop said.
“When we’re dictated by mob rule as to what stays up and what comes down, it doesn’t give us an opportunity to have a conversation about who these people were and how they’re represented and whether they should continue to be represented.”
Bishop Wall said that he hopes to spread devotion to Padre Kino in his diocese with liturgies and prayer cards. Noting that the miracle recognized for the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha — the first Native American saint — was the healing of a Native American boy, the bishop said it would be appropriate for a miracle attributed to Padre Kino to also be among the Native communities.
“What better way for Eusebio Kino to work a miracle from heaven, than amongst the Native American people,” he said. “These are the people he loved, because he served them so well.”
Padre Kino died March 15, 1711 in present-day Sonora. The Kino Heritage Society sponsors a memorial Mass for Padre Kino every year on the anniversary of his death, as well as on his birthday. Altogether, Padre Kino established 21 missions in what is now Arizona and Sonora, and helped the Jesuits return to California in 1697. There will be a Mass celebrating the advancement of his cause 9 a.m. Arizona Time, Sunday, Aug. 9, in Segno. The Mass will be livestreamed. The program will begin at 8:30, and civil ceremonies will follow, with Bishop Emeritus Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson participating.
When he imagines Padre Kino sitting on horseback and carrying the Cross of Jesus, Bishop Wall said he’s reminded of the words of St. Paul: “Woe to me if I do not preach Christ Crucified” (1 Cor 9:16).