Pope assigns new bishop to Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces to succeed retiring bishop

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - The Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces announced on Thursday morning that Bishop Oscar Cantu has been appointed the new bishop of the diocese.

Although the announcement was officially made Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI made the decision on Nov. 10, 2012, according to a statement posted on the Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces website.

Cantu, 46, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of San Antonio since 2008, will succeed Bishop Ricardo Ramirez who has been the only bishop the Diocese of Las Cruces has had since its formation in 1982. Ramirez reached the Roman Catholic Church's mandatory retirement age of 75 in late 2011.

After holding the position since 1982, Ramirez described this event as bittersweet.

"I think I have a bucket of mixed emotions but I also have a bucket list. In other words, there's things I want to do, things that I haven't been able to do because of my work," he told ABC-7.

The Catholice Diocese of Las Cruces is made up of 140,200 Catholics and has 81 priests and 38 permanent deacons.

"First, let me say how deeply humbling this appointment is for me," Cantu said in a statement. "I am humbled that the Holy Father would appoint me to lead a beautiful diocese in a  state that I am not terribly familiar with. There is a deep sense of 'being sent' - sent, as the apostles were by Christ, to announce the Good News of the Gospel to the four corners of the earth. There is a call here to reconnect with the original mission of the Church - to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ! I come to Las Cruces with no particular agenda other than to humbly and joyfully proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I look forward to forming new friends and working together to build up the Kingdom. I ask for your prayers; you will certainly be in my daily prayers. Cantu speaks Spanish, French and Italian. Cantu's father, who immigrated to the United States as a young man, only received a sixth grade education."

Cantu said he looks to Ramirez as a role model.

"I think by his example, how much he loves the people, and he has shown his love by his dedication, his very hard work over the years. That is job number one to love the people that I serve. We can't forget the very basic thing the Bishop does is to proclaim the gospel, so I do that together with my other bishops, the deacons, with the faithful," Cantu said.

Ramirez said Cantu's credentials are impeccable.

"I want to say to you, whom I have served to the best of my ability for the past thirty-plus years that I love you with all my heart and that it has been a labor of love being the Bishop of Las Cruces," Ramirez said in a statement. "You have been patient and forgiving of my limitiations, knowing that at all times, I have had nothing but the best intentions to serve you well. (Cantu's) credentials are impeccable. He has academic degrees from the Gregorian University in Rome and is fluent in various languages."

The two bishops also have plenty of similarities.

"We both have Mexican roots. We're both from migrant farmworker families. We both went to the same university so we've had the same teacher. We have the same academic formation," Ramirez told ABC-7.

Cantu made a controversial decision in October 2010 while he was running the Archdiocese of San Antonio until the archdiocese received a new archbishop. Cantu made the decision to stop a long-standing Mass that was offered for more than 15 years to the gay and lesbian community at a parish, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

From 2004 to 2007 Bishop Cantu co-hosted an interfaith radio show in Houston called "Show of Faith." His co-costs included a Jewish rabbi and a protestant minister. The program discussed issues from the perspective of their individual faith traditions.

Bishop Cantu has also been involved in The Metropolitan Organization (TMO). Its mission is to publicly address important social issues in the community such as fair housing, immigration, education and many others.

Ramirez will continue to live in Las Cruces following his retirement. He will live off a priest retirement plan subsidized by the Las Cruces diocese. The plan was started when the diocese was formed 30 years ago.  Ramirez also will be paid stipends for speaking engagements around the country.

"There's a couple of places I want to visit. I want to visit Patagonia, I want to visit St. Petersburg, I'd love to go to Australia. Those are dreams right now. No definite plans but those are places I'd love to visit," he said.

The Catholic Diocese of El Paso has been without a bishop since Bishop Armando X. Ochoa was appointed to lead the Archdiocese of Fresno in December 2011. Officials with the El Paso diocese said they are crossing their fingers that a new bishop will be assigned soon but that there is no time table for when the Vatican makes appointments.

Bishop Oscar Cantu's bio

In the national bishops' conference Rev. Oscar Cantu, S.T.D currently serves on the committees on Catholic Education, International Justice and Peace, and Protection of Children and Young People, as well as the Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs.

He was born December 5, 1966, in Houston, TX, the son of Ramiro and Maria de Jesus Cantu, natives of small towns near Monterey in Mexico. He is the fifth of eight children, five boys, and three girls. Bishop Cantu is a product of Houston's Catholic Schools, attending Holy Name Catholic School and St. Thomas High School. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Dallas, TX.

He then received his Masters in Divinity and Masters in Theological Studies from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. He continued the Pontifical Gregorian University, located in Rome Italy where he earned his S.T.L. Licentiate in Sacred Theology, as well as his S.T.D., Doctorate in Sacred Theology in Dogmatic Theology . Bishop Cantu was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Houston on May 21, 1994.

He has spent his priestly career working in parishes throughout the Houston metropolitan area. His first assignment following his ordination was as parochial vicar at St. Christopher Parish in Houston. Since 2003, he has taught at University of St. Thomas in Houston. He also has taught at St. Thomas at St. Mary's Seminary. Bishop Cantu is fluent in Spanish, Italian, and French.

His last assignment before be ordained a bishop was Pastor at Houston's Holy Name Parish, his childhood parish where, in the early 60's, his parents became close friends with a young priest, Father Patrick Flores, who went on to become the Archbishop of San Antonio.

Cantu's father immigrated to the United States as a young man. He worked in Chicago where he learned to be a machinist. Tired of the cold weather and the long distance from his native country, he moved his wife and two children to Houston.

While Mr. Cantu only received a 6th grade education, his life of hard work taught him to place a high value on education. Seven of his eight children attended Catholic schools in Houston at a great financial sacrifice for the family, four of them went on to college, three of them have attained their master s degrees. While still a seminarian, Bishop Cantu worked on a committee made up of diocesan leaders and chaired by Laredo's Bishop James Tamayo. Its purpose was to develop, promulgate, and promote a plan for Hispanic ministry.

Since his ordination, Bishop Cantu has participated in number of ministries and movements in Houston. He was involved in the Christian Family movement, a national network of parish/neighborhood small groups of Catholics and their families who come together to reinforce their Christian values and are encouraged to reach out to others. He conducted three retreats per year with the youth of the CFM movement in the Galveston?Houston Archdiocese. Bishop Cantu worked with those preparing for marriage through the Engaged Encounter ministry.

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