Gentleman, Priest and Bishop

by Mario De Jesus Paredes
Executive Director of the Northeast Hispanic Catholic Center
(May 1977)

I approach the person of Bishop Francisco Garmendia with admiration, awe and deep-seated appreciation. Admiration for the witness of his own exemplary life. Awe of the piety and holiness that has shone forth in fifty years of his priesthood and twenty year of his life as a bishop. And deep-seated appreciation for the gift of his unremitting friendship and the special concern he has had for me personally, for my work at the Northeast Hispanic Catholic Center, and for my affiliation with his work, especially at the Hope Line, where I have been able to collaborate so closely with him.

The admiration, awe and appreciation I have for Bishop Garmendia corresponds to the three-fold reality that sums up his life, for I see in him the shining example of a gentleman, a priest and a bishop. The first characteristic that arises from within this strong yet loving and gentle personality is his gentlemanliness. His imbedded nobility, rooted in his Basque heritage, with all the strength this implies, makes him open in his dealings, sincere in his loyalty, upright in his work and assiduous in his life, leaving no room for either wasting time or mediocrity.

Bishop Garmendia is truly a Basque gentleman, from the same stock that produced Ignatius Loyola. He is incapable of betrayal; he speaks without duplicity and lives with a spirit of service. All this he chose to dedicate from his youth to “the Eternal Lord,” as his countryman Ignatius, refers to him in that well-known meditation on the Two Standards. Surely Bishop Garmendia, in all that he has chosen to do, has honored the proud nobility of his Basque people and had done so with no presumption and without the slightest trace of pride. With complete independence, neither yielding not halting, he follows only the voice of his conscience and the deep commitment of his life.

Thank you very much, Bishop Garmendia, for the witness you have given us of a truly Christian gentleman. It is difficult to find such a genuine and Christian human being these days.

Bishop Garmendia is a priest with all this means of dedication and service in the Catholic Church. In those fifty years that have gone by since his ordination in Vitoria, the beautiful capital of Basque country and of the Province of Alava, he has maintained the desire to live his life in imitation of Christ, priest and king.

There radiates from the depths of Bishop Garmendia his priestly vocation – sacerdos propter sacrificium – a priest who lives for sacrifice. Above all Bishop Garmendia is a prayerful man, deeply dedicated to the Eucharist and a true son of Mary. His liturgical life, grounded, I would think, in a personal asceticism, is so carefully woven into the fabric of his daily life that he wants to be an instrument of grace and salvation in spite of the weight of sin which results from our weak human nature.

There resonates from the heart of Bishop Garmendia in the cry of St. Paul: “I am ruined if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor 9-76). For this reason he has taken on a prophetic role especially in his work as catechist. He know how to decry evil with courage, as in his defense of the right to life of the child in its mother’s womb. He knows how to take on the cause of immigrants and of the poor. But, above all, he has always proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord and the Good News of his kingdom; he has shown Christ in the saving mystery of the cross.

Bishop Garmendia understands the meaning and value of the social and charitable life of the Church. He has lived its social doctrine and been a true promoter of genuine Christian liberation with neither stridency not ideological aberrations. As Pope Paul IV would say, to love and serve the poor, he has not his to go to extremes, he has merely chosen the radical call of the Gospel.

Twenty years ago he was ordained a bishop, the first Hispanic bishop in the archdiocese. He has served loyally as auxiliary bishop to Cardinals Cooke and O’Connor.  It is not an easy task but one which he has carried out with dignity, magnanimity and a humility that edifies and captures our attention.

Bishop Garmendia knows how to be discreet and effective. Many have not understood his humble ways or his low-key way of greeting things done. Yet he has abundantly fulfilled the commitment of his consecration as a bishop.

Thank you very much, Bishop Garmendia, for your life and priestly ministry, for the Masses and sacraments you celebrate, for your simple and popular preaching and for your love of those in need, especially Hispanic migrants.

Bishop Garmendia has been a friend and father to priests, concerned for them and in particular for their spiritual life and their growth in holiness. I don’t think there has ever been a priest who came to him who was turned away. He has been close to so many, especially those who are sick, for he knows how to inspire, to heal wounded spirits and to be with them. He has been a true shepherd of his flock, a real father-of the poor and of migrants. He has been a defender of family life and an initiator of apostolic movements. He has encouraged the religious customs of the people (popular religiosity) and has urged and supported vocations both to the priesthood and to consecrated religious life.

Bishop Garmendia has certainly been a bishop with vision, a proponent of the pastoral use of the media, of “the modern areopagites” (Acts 17:34), as Pope John Paul II calls them. And he has created meaningful social works, the most outstanding of which is the Hope Line. As bishop he has been courageous and fearless, when necessary, in defending just causes.

Thank you very much, Bishop Garmendia, for the richness of your life as a bishop and all that this has meant for us. As a successor of the apostles, your Excellency has done honor to “the imposition of the hands” and has shown us a bishop can be a pontifex -a bridge-builder- between God and us in the midst of the complexities here in our beloved New York and given the particular conditions that exist in the Bronx.

Thank you, Bishop Garrnendia, for your 73 years as a christian gentleman, for your 50 years as a faithful priest and your 20 years as an exemplary Bishop.

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