Padre Kino provides model for ministry leaders today, says Tucson bishop emeritus

Ven. Eusebio Kino, a Jesuit missionary priest known as the “Padre on Horseback” who introduced Christianity to Arizona, is depicted in this statue found in Wesley Bolin Plaza across from the State Capitol in Phoenix in this Nov. 27, 2019 photo. The statue was a gift from the Mexican state of Sonora, which borders Arizona to the south, in August 1967, “to maintain alive the memory of the pioneer civilizer of the Pimería and to strengthen the ties of friendship and comprehension between the peoples of both states,” presented by then Sonora Governor Luis Encinas and Arizona Governor Jack Williams. (Kateri Gutiérrez/Arizona Angelus)

By Tony Gutiérrez
Arizona Angelus

As a missionary, Ven. Eusebio Kino can serve as an inspiration for anybody in ministry today, ordained, consecrated or lay, said Bishop Emeritus Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson.

The bishop’s comments came in an interview several days after an Aug. 9 trinational virtual celebration of the 375th birthday Padre Kino, a Jesuit missionary priest known as the “Padre on Horseback” and considered the “Apostle of Arizona.” The Mass and a ceremony following were celebrated from Padre Kino’s hometown of Segno, Italy, with people connecting virtually from Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora. Bishop Kicanas was one of several dignitaries connecting virtually.

In the interview, Bishop Kicanas noted Padre Kino’s advice for missionaries:

  • To have a deep love of God;
  • Be willing to work hard;
  • Dedication to work and prayer;
  • To have great patience and tolerance, not imposing, but learning from and listening to the people.

“Pope Francis speaks of the priest as someone who needs to have the smell of the sheep, and that certainly was part of what Father Kino had in mind,” Bishop Kicanas said. “He learned about the Native peoples, their culture, and accomplished a great deal. He was an amazing man with many talents but, most especially in his heart, he was a missionary disciple. He believed in the Lord and he wanted to make the word of the Lord known to others.”

Bishop Kicanas said that his successor, Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger, had a conflict with the virtual celebration and asked the former to represent the diocese.

“Having been in the diocese now for almost 19 years and having learned a great deal about Father Kino, it was a real privilege to participate in that celebration and that ceremony,” Bishop Kicanas said. “There’s lots of bad news today — it just keeps coming — so, to have a little ray of good news was a joy. And this truly was a ray of good news.”

Padre Kino’s advancement is not only a reason for celebration for Tucson, but for all of Arizona, Bishop Kicanas, said, noting that when he is beatified, it will be “all the bishops in Arizona who will come together and rejoice in that,” adding that all Catholics, ordained, religious or lay, can learn from “his profoundly deep faith and love of God that drove him.”

Sometimes we think our ministry is difficult or our times are difficult, but Father Kino served in a time when there wasn’t any clear way by which missionary work should take place,” the bishop said. “It was dangerous. He had very limited resources. Father Kino struggled immensely in his ministry, but his faith kept him going. His faith helped him to continue the work despite the difficulties, despite the hardship.

The bishop noted that Padre Kino was a polyglot: not only did he speak Italian, Spanish and Latin, but he learned the multiple Native American tongues of the tribes he served.

“Missionaries are driven. They teach Christ, they preach Christ, they witness Christ. And Father Kino did all of that in his ministry, despite the many hardships he faced,” said Bishop Kicanas.

Bishop Kicanas recalled visiting the Pascua Yaqui tribe during Holy Week when he was first assigned as a bishop to Arizona. He noted the Natives were still singing the Latin hymns taught to them by Padre Kino.

“They are continuing those traditions that took place when Father Kino was teaching them and helping them to learn about our faith and our traditions,” recalled the bishop. “Father Kino had a deep respect for the Native peoples and a deep love for them. That’s still very prevalent in the community of the Pascua Yaqui and the Tohono O’odham, that they remember him as a man respectful of their culture, trying to help them to meet Christ and to learn about Christ, but not to impose Christ upon them on the faith. This is also a moment of joy for their communities because he was one among them.”

The bishop also recalled the first time he visited Magdalena de Kino – where Padre Kino was buried – approximately 12 years ago.

“It was a very holy experience, a very moving experience to see the bones of Father Kino there, thinking of all that He was able to accomplish in his life, which was quite astounding.”

At the center of Padre Kino’s spirituality was his prayer life, said Bishop Kicanas, noting the missionary’s “tremendous trust that somehow God was going to see him through the challenges that he faced.”

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