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​Bishop Raymundo Peña dies at 87; was advocate of immigrant rights

October 06, 2021 | posted by Today's Catholic newspaper

Topics: Archbishop, In the Press, Vocations, Breaking News

Bishop Raymundo Peña dies at 87; was advocate of immigrant rights

Bishop Raymundo J. Peña, retired bishop of Brownsville who was an advocate of immigrant rights and opposed the border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, died Sept. 24 at age 87.

Bishop Peña died at San Juan Nursing Home on the grounds of the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine in San Juan.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated September 30 at the basilica. Interment was at Rose Lawn Mausoleum in McAllen.

“We give thanks to God for his service to the diocese and pray for the repose of his soul. May God reward him for his labors,” Brownsville Bishop Daniel E. Flores said in a statement.

“During his time as shepherd of the people of the Rio Grande Valley he lived his motto, ‘Haz todo con amor’ (‘Do everything with love’), taken from 1 Corinthians 16:14,” said Bishop Flores, who succeeded the late bishop when he retired in 2009.

Bishop Peña, he said, continued to play an active role in the diocese during retirement, participating in the ordination of a transitional deacon at Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Brownsville Aug. 21.

“He was an example to me of tireless service to the church and a trusted adviser. We will all miss him very much,” Flores added.

Born Feb. 19, 1934, in Robstown, Bishop Peña was ordained a priest in 1957 in the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas. He served 19 years as a priest in the diocese, which included the Rio Grande Valley until the Diocese of Brownsville was created in 1965.

Bishop Peña was one of the country’s youngest bishops when St. John Paul II in 1976 appointed him at age 42 as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of San Antonio.

“Archbishop Francis Furey of our archdiocese advocated for Bishop Peña as his second Mexican-American auxiliary bishop, the first, of course being the eventual Archbishop Patricio F. Flores. Bishop Pena was made our second auxiliary in October of 1976, a few months after I was ordained. Bishop Pena already knew much of our archdiocese because he was from nearby Corpus Christi and had attended our St. John’s Seminary and Assumption Seminary,” said Auxiliary Bishop Michael Boulette. “My principal contact with him was in his attention to the seminary and its operation. By this time St. John’s had been closed and all seminarians were at Assumption. He advocated and assisted the work of the faculty there.”

In April of 1979, Archbishop Furey passed away, and since Bishop Flores had already been named as the bishop of El Paso in 1978, Bishop Peña became the administrator sede vacante of the Archdiocese of San Antonio. He worked faithfully in that role and prepared for the eventual return of Bishop Patricio Flores as the new archbishop.

“When I became a bishop I witnessed Bishop Pena’s true dedication to the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops and to the bi-annual meetings of the Borders Bishop of Texas and Mexico. There he offered great historical memory of their previous activities to the more recently named bishops of the area,” Bishop Boulette said. “He had a tremendous memory of the previous service of the bishops of Texas. We are grateful for his service to the Church.”

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS, said that he first met Bishop Peña following his appointment as an auxiliary bishop in Chicago in 2003, and that he served with him on several committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “He was a very strong advocate of Hispanic Ministry in the United States,” the archbishop remembered. “Coming to San Antonio, we were able to strengthen those bonds of unity as shepherds of the people in our dioceses in Texas.”

The archbishop also praised Bishop Peña’s collaboration with bishops of the United States and Mexico border region. “I was able to see his dedication and conviction to serving immigrants and refugees.”

Archbishop Gustavo also noted Bishop Peña’s 45 years of episcopal ministry. “He was inspiring because he was the historic memory of the church in Texas, and also one of the leading figures for the Catholic Church in the United States. He showed endurance and resiliency to the very end.”

Following his time in San Antonio, in 1980 Bishop Peña was named prelate of the Diocese of El Paso, and served the church there until being installed in Brownsville in 1995.

Learning of the death, El Paso Bishop Mark J. Seitz offered prayers for the deceased bishop and his family. “We pray that as he makes the transition to his home with our heavenly Father, he may intercede for us, and all the faithful he served during his ministry on earth,” Seitz said in a statement.

In El Paso, Bishop Peña founded the Tepeyac Institute as a formation center for laypeople in 1988. He also established The Rio Grande Catholic, the diocesan newspaper, in 1991, and also started the Progress Ministry Appeal to help fund the diocesan ministries serving the diocese.

In a statement, the diocese said bishop Peña was a strong advocate for immigration rights along the border and a critic of President Bill Clinton’s plans to build a border fence in El Paso in the 1990s.

Bishop Peña led the Brownsville Diocese for 14 years until retiring in 2009 at age 75, the age at which canon law requires a bishop to resign.

In Brownsville, Bishop Peña worked to increase vocations to the priesthood. By the time of his retirement, he had ordained almost half the diocesan priests and nearly tripled the number of seminarians.

He established the San Juan Diego Ministry Institute in San Juan for training future permanent deacons and lay ecclesial ministers. He also opened a diocesan immigration office in San Juan.

In addition, Bishop Peña included women in leadership positions in the diocese and diocese-related entities.