Technician-OK let it roll past the first minute because the first minute is usually um-
H-Yeah right haha.
Sr. F-You learn a lot from this stuff.
Sr. F-You learn a lot from this stuff.
Tech-All stuff that I remember.
H-Oh you’re using that Olius monitor is that what you’re using it for?
Tech-I actually have-
Tech-It’s recording it as well.
H-So we got it digitized.
Tech-Uh, yes and no, it’s in a raw, yeah it’s in a raw M2D format which is a raw HPV files, we
still have to compress it-
H-Yeah, good. That’s a good idea.
*Pause for the tape-Interview begins at 1:42*
H-Uh let’s go back a little bit to look at some of the issues that PADRES was addressing OK?
Uh more appointments to the bishops, Mexican American bishops, more attention to the needs of
the pueblo, the needs of the people that would be addressed like something like the mobile
teams. Get-in other words get the Church to turn its attention to the plight of the Mexicano and
so on. And-you were at the same time trying to institutionalize, if you want to say, the
revolution. You know, like every revolution tries to create itself some kind of an institutional
permanence, and one of those seems to me ways in which you were doing that was to get a seat
at the table at the National Catholic Conference of Bishops, is that the right name for it?
R-Yes, uh huh.
H-OK. How did that go?
R-In my time, I could not recall one being appointed while I was there, while I was with
PADRES. The-and I think that we might have gotten someone if I had not gotten into a big spat
with this-with Bernadine and with this other fellow. Maybe the appointed ones afterwards but
they had their pride probably, you know? For whatever reason, I could not recall one being
appointed to an office there. The, um-but we got a bishop and more bishops-
R-after Pat Flores, we had Gilbert Chavez from California, and then Archbishop Sanchez from
Nuevo Mexico and then from then on another bishop from California also, his name is escapes
me. He was a Peruvian, but he was in LA. So they began to understand-not understand, well
yeah, their eyes were open that the Mexicano, the Latino was now by this time demanding that if
the Church was really one and we were part of the Church, we need to be also recognized by
having bishops at the top. You know um, the-I think the Church um, the structure, the Church
structure realized that, and, but you see we were so proud, I was I mean we all were. When Pat
Flores became bishop and then Bobbie Sanchez and then Gilbert Chavez, but you see, one thing
that I, for one, didn’t realize was that it was just a matter of time before these men too became
part of the very structure we were trying to sensitize, and conscientisize towards the Mexican
American, the Latino. You know Pat Flores was one man that did not, well I don’t know about
the others, but, uh, I know the Archbishop very well, he remained authentic to who he was.
Given the circumstances, etc, etc, he was a man that remained very sensitive to the Raza, a man
who loved the poor, the underdog, the disenfranchised, that always kept in his heart and
expressed it. One prominent pastor, when Pat was made Archbishop this guy says, ‘Hmm, a
peasant bishop.’ Yes indeed the peasant bishop who remained a peasant and a lover of God’s
children. In spite of the fact that he had become part of this huge structure that eats you up and
makes you fodder for itself. PADRES shall remain always outside the circle.
R-PADRES should have remained always the prophetic voice, and to be the prophetic voice you
had to become part of the kingdom because you can never-you can never approach the king and
tell him ‘You have no pants, you’re naked.’ And once you become part of the realm, then you
cannot criticize it. So what happened to PADRES was exactly that it was swallowed up by this
huge dragon and become part of it.
H-The Church bureaucracy?
R-Yes, it did not remain outside being a prophet.
R-Someone who’d get angry, someone who could create shock, someone who could feel with a
heart and not just with a mind. That’s the-that is the sign of a prophet. They don’t last, but while
they’re there they-one of the signs of the prophet is that he gets angry-
R-because of the injustices. He’s able to cry without being ashamed because, like, um, Hubert
Humphrey, when he got cancer, he gave a press conference and began to cry and he says, ‘I’m
not ashamed to cry. A man who doesn’t cry is a man without heart.’ And then a prophet has to
call shock. They become shock experts because that’s the only way to awaken people, the
structures, and Christ was all these, ha. Another mark of a prophet is to go naked, uh take of his
clothes, like I say, you know these guys they were shock experts. And our Lord, when he got into
the temple and began sweeping people around it was anger. In fact, they asked this man is acting
like a prophet, you know?
H-Was Bishop Flores appointed while you were-
R-I was his sub-deacon when he was the first mass as a bishop at the convention center.
H-You talked about PADRES meeting where, you know without taking any credit from Bishop
Flores, but you also talked about some conflict already between Bishop Flores as the bishop and
the PADRES organization. You had wanted, in a conversation, I didn’t-I don’t quite remember.
You had talked about you were passing a resolution and-
H-someone carried a message from Bishop Flores that-
H-PADRES was just stepping, maybe, a little out of line or-what was the issue?
R-I was living then in El Paso and I think it was the fourth congress of PADRES that was held in
El Paso. And the chairman of PADRES then came to my house and invited me to go and, uh,
Bishop Peña was then the bishop of El Paso. He succeeded Flores, who was the bishop there
before him. And I went into the congress, and I was sitting at the main table up there with the
president of PADRES, the chairman, and the bishop. And they were discussing some kind of a
motion and at the end of the discussion, this young priest gets up and, with handcuffs, you know,
white collar, nicely groomed, and he said something about, ‘I don’t think that the Archbishop
would go along with that kind of motion’ you know? But he spoke like he came straight from the
Pope, you know, serious and, you know the fellow, so I won’t mention his name, he’s still
kicking around. And everybody kept quiet, and the motion died. I turned to the chairman who
has passed away now, he was a Clarisian, and to Bishop Peña, I say ‘that would have never
happened in the early days of PADRES.’ If a cardinal had gotten up and said that, we’d have told
him to get out. And I got up, I said, ‘This is not PADRES. By that time, PADRES was being…..
H-Co opted by the organization.
R-PADRES allowed itself to be co opted.
R-You know, and because the magnet was this way towards the circle, should’ve been outside
the circle, but it became to enticing, and they were-and they went back, back, back, you know?
The original guys who had the passion, who saw the vision, were now getting old. New people
came into the directorship and they went back into the circle. And once you come into the circle,
you loose your prophetic stand. You find it difficult to get angry, to cry, to shock, you know?
H-That possibly reflects a certain amount of careerism within the church, you know, people
thinking well ‘I cannot be too loud of a prophet because I’ll never get to be monsignor or I’ll
never get to be bishop or I’ll never get to be promoted or I’ll never get a good parish.’
R-A silent prophet is a square circle, it’s a contradiction in terms.
R-Uh you know. When the Church doesn’t like something, not the church, the structure all they
got to do is wait because this too will pass away, you know? And then you go back to the same
thing. Look at Vatican II— rah rah rah— Vatican II was one of the main engines, in my life, in
my life that gave me that energy, that strength and I’m sure those of others. But now, Vatican II,
what, what happened to it? Time, Rome is eternal they had all the time in the world. You guys
were that way you know.
H-Let’s talk about-
R-Let me say this one more thing about-this is the reality. I recommend you read the book called
The Fourth Turning, The Fourth Turning
R-Written by a guy named Schulty and Schulze and what, anyway. It’s very interesting hoe life
is a complete circle over and over again and each epic it repeats itself. The first turning is like the
spring, summer, I mean first spring, summer, fall winter is the fourth turning when bad things
happen. And life repeats itself, but instead of going through four stages, it goes like the
pendulum, it goes this way this happens. Whatever you’re gonna do, do it now because the
pendulum will go back and then what happened here you go as far as you go and that’s it.
Hopefully you don’t regress or you forget about it. When you are here, implant a permanent
institution that will follow through. Even during the winter, when it comes over here until it gets
back. Well, PADRES didn’t do that. The pendulum went like that, the time to do, do, do, implant
and become permanent came and passed and the pendulum left them. And because PADRES
never followed through and became a prophetic voice in the church, they lost it. And now what
do you have? And I’m going to tell you what you have now. PADRES somehow became the
Association for Hispanic/Latino Priests. And I understood Gomez, our current archbishop, was
the president of that. A few nights ago I saw on the Catholic Channel, where Archbishop Chaput
from Denver, who used to be Archbishop Gomez’s boss when he was auxiliary, and Archbishop
Gomez, both, were inducting three or four lay people into this new outfit of Hispanic lay leaders.
They carefully select from the professions, lawyers, doctors, corporation, big grandotes and
typical Opus Dai operation.
R-And they got the strength from their PADRES which was the opposite, totally the opposite.
We gather our leadership from the grassroots; we identify them, select them, train them, and send
them. Lay leadership from the bottom up, not from the top down. You see growth happens with
change and continuity. If you don’t have change and continuity, you have no growth. Continuity
and change are two different things, but one cannot exist without the other. This is why Vatican
II happened because if you don’t have change or the appearance of change, you cannot continue.
The Mexican American, in order to grow has to experience change. In order to continue, it has to
experience change, they all go together. If you don’t get that, you die.
H-Let me ask you about the members of PADRES when, you know, when the organization was
born when you were leader in the organization. And there were things within the Church that
meant a lot to you that you talked about. For example, you talked about Vatican II, you talked
about that liberation theology that was being articulated, but it was also to some extent a wider
context of the movimiento that was going on. And there’s a picture in my thesis book of you and
Cesar Chavez. To what extent were the priests inspired by the activists outside the Church?
R-Oh I think no doubt about it Cesar is to me-he was my hero. Uh, I knew Cesar really well as a
priest and also I became a union organizer and then a union-I was the executive-I was the chief
executive office of the union in El Paso. After the strike of Farra, you may remember-
R-for two years strike. At that time Chavez was struggling also in California and then when he
was invited to come to the valley and help out there, there was a crazy guy in the valley doing
that stuff. But anyway the thing is that a lot of people asked Cesar to expand his horizons, go
beyond Delano, go beyond the grave and become a more national figure, a symbolic figure of
liberation for the Mexican American. And he says, ‘My job is to concentrate where I am, here,
otherwise it gets diluted.’ And this man was a man of deep conviction, a man who did not mind
castigating his body for the sake of his people. He was a highly religious man, a highly religious
man. You didn’t see any riots with this man you know? All his marches were peaceful, and
before a march, he prayed, he meditated, he fasted. He was a spiritual leader in so many ways.
H-Were there other leaders and people in the movimiento that obviously the priest must’ve heard
about. You that the-there were other things going beyond the farm workers. For example
political organizations like Jose Angél’s-
H-you know here in Texas.
R-Jose Angél Gutierrez was at St. Mary’s University, at St. Mary’s, when it was in the inner city.
And Jose’s tactic was ‘Kill the gringos’ for example. He was with was it MECHA, and then-
R-MAYO. And era él, it was Jose Angél, Willie Velasquez, Juan Patlán, anyway. And I called
him and I said, ‘You know Jose, when you use that kind of language, it can become
counterproductive.’ But he wanted to immolate the Blacks, ‘Burn baby burn’ you know, ‘let’s
raise hell, let’s do this and this.’ ‘Jose that’s not our character, we don’t do things that way as a
people.’ But he didn’t listen and that’s fine. At that time also you had young leaders coming up
like, I won’t mention their names but they’re still around. They were all around the west side and
they developed their own little kingdoms, you know? And you could not go into their territory
because they were the chiefs there. And what I tried to do, I said, ‘Listen folks, bring them
together, there are no walls here. We need to work together.’ The inner city was on Chihuahua
and Pinto, three blocks away was the Inman Christian Center. One was a Catholic thing and the
other one was a Church of Christ thing. The Inman Christian Center had been there for ages,
since Dr. Luna, I was a little kid when I used to stop by there. And I was told by my pastor, ‘Oh
you cannot go, that’s a mortal sin if you just stop there’ you know? We were blocks away and we
were doing-we never communicated you know? Finally I walked up there and talked to the
director, who to this day is my friend. I said, ‘We’ve got to do things together. Where you are
lacking I can supply, etc.’ Beautiful communications, something that was difficult for the other
little kingdoms to do among the Mexicanos.
R-But that’s the way-when you begin to grow and organize, that’s the embryonic process. First,
you have to create your own little kingdoms, as you grow mature than you come together and to
form one big thing.
R-Willie Velasquez then, later on, established the voter registration thing. He ran into all kinds of
problems doing that. Even politicians came short-made promises to this guy, to Willie, and they
didn’t come across. By the way, I married Willie Velasquez and his wife at St. James. He used
the office at the inner city when he first started. Juan Patlán who was also responsible for
MAUC, the other MAUC-
R-the Mexican American Unity Council. He was also-but this guy was, Juan Patlán was a more,
not refined, but of a political guy you know? He didn’t scare people away, the establishment and
stuff like that.
H-But you were a combination of some of these folks in confronting the bishops. I mean taking
on the Catholic hierarchy may have been you know a bigger challenge than some of these folks
were facing to some extent.
R-Only because I was more naïve than they were/
H-Only because you did it behind closed doors, haha.
R-Well I think that if you give too much thought, like ‘Where’s the money gonna come from’-
R-‘What if I do this, what is going to happen? What if I get my mouth kicked’, etc. You-when
you are in this kind of struggle, I am totally convinced that you need to be guided by the heart.
You know we were criticized by the savants, you know, New Mexicans, you know, ‘All you’re
doing-you’re too emotional.’ ‘You’re not cerebral, always think with your heart instead of with
your mind’ you know. A computer can do a lot of the stuff the mind does, but a computer has no
heart. And that’s where we are way ahead of the game my friend. You got to be guided also by
the heart and I think that in my case, if I had given a lot of thought to the obstacles, I wouldn’t
have moved one inch.
H-But you gave a lot of thought to strategies; I mean-
H-if you look at some of the things that PADRES did, for examples, the functions of PR were
giving to the priests who were good at writing and-
H-public speaking and catching the audience. The different tasks were given to different people
with different you know talents.
R-But you see, Gilbert, that goes to show that those who think with the heart can also think with
R-One is not exclusive of the other. However, all the way around it could be exclusive, when you
become a computer and go, go, go with the computer and forget you have a heart, that doesn’t
go. We have a heart-you automatically-if you have a gallon, you automatically have a pint, and a
quart. But if you have only a quart, you cannot put the gallon there.
R-So when-now when I hear, ‘Ah you Mexicans, all you do is you think with your heart’ thank
H-Laughs. Well good, I don’t have anymore questions. Do you want to add a little closing
R-I hear, when I hear about the PADRES movement being a sociological entity, PADRES was
not a social movement, not the way I perceived it. It might have become that, but PADRES
during my watch was an organization, an association of priests, Roman Catholic priests working
for and with the Church like a child working with his mother and father and letting them know
‘My pants are wet, I am hungry, I am sick, I need help.’ And if they don’t listen, then I began to
scream and yell and kick because what I’m telling them is true. Um, as Roman Catholic priests
and as lovres of the Catholic Church and the Christian life, we wanted those in charge, those
about us, who saw his name so powerful, and they were powerful, to turn their eyes towards us
and to recognize us. After all, we comprised one quarter of the Catholic population in this
country at that time. Here is an institution that did a lot of good for us and-but at times
abandoned us and treated us like second and third rate citizens. And we said, like Judge Peña
said one time, ‘Ya basta, that’s enough.’ And we set out to help the Holy Mother of the church to
recognize us not as orphans, not as adopted children, not as bastard children, but as full fleshed
children of the people of God and that was the purpose of it. Not a social movement, but an
ecclesiastical awakening. And I think that the Church awoke, woke up. I saw awoke because I’m
R-I think eventually the Church woke up and had wakened up. But the pendulum is going back
and forth. Right now you have the conservatives; right now you have the blinders. We got to
wait I guess for the pendulum to go over here and then prepare for that.
H-Let me ask one more questions that occurred to me and that is if you were to say ‘I would’ve
been a bit more successful if I had done this instead of that’? What would you pinpoint?
R-I don’t want to think in terms of how I would be successful.
H-I don’t mean-
H-I don’t mean you, I mean the organization.
H-‘How would I have made the organization more successful if I had done this instead of that’?
R-I think that PADRES would’ve been far-would’ve been able to realize it’s goals and objectives
and would’ve continued to exist even now if it would not have become part of the structure. If it
would have remained outside of the circle independent of the Church structure so that they
would retain the liberty, the power to continue to say, ‘Look you have mocos in your nose’ you
know? ‘Look your babas is coming out of your mouth’ you know?
H-And during your time you felt you kept it outside enough?
R-We started outside from the very beginning. I never took a study on this or I never explored it,
but I wonder how many priests didn’t join us because they saw us as just being too far outside
R-But those that came to the La Salle meeting, the first meeting, and after discussing things,
Gilbert, you should’ve heard, you know. I didn’t invent anything, they were all going through the
same experiences where they were coming from, you know? And so we were of one heart and
one mind. I had it made where I was. I didn’t have constipation; I was able to do what I wanted
to do, but these guys, they won’t allow-they don’t know how, they won’t allow to, they just kept
seeing things and they couldn’t do anything about it. Well, this gave them an opportunity to say,
‘I’m not alone, we’re together, let’s move on it.’ So from the very beginning they were outside
the circle and they knew because we discussed, ‘What if we do this, how do we do it, what’s the
expectation, what’s going to be the ramifications? What’s going to be the reaction of the
hierarchy’? This is the way, then we had to proceed this way you know? And one thing that
happened that really helped us, we always remained within the Church, we always respected the
authority, we questioned some of the authoritative things, but we respected to the extent that we
could and we kept them informed. Good news, bad news, indifferent news, they had the minutes
of our meetings, our resolutions, our plans, what we intended to do, etc. And that I think was
necessary, indispensible because we were priests. We weren’t working for ourselves; we were
working for the people of God which is the Church.
H-Well thank you very much. I think it’s been a great four hours, haha, with you, you know,
you’ve been so generous with-
R-Well thank you.
H-and we appreciate it. And as you know we’re going to create an archives of these kinds of
interviews and fifty years from now people will see things, you know, in a clearer way we hope
through these interviews.
R-Well I hope so. I hope they look up on that.
R-OK. Thank you.