As Bishop Curtis Guillory, SVD, prepares for the upcoming celebration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment, he took some time to share his thoughts on his 16 years in the Diocese of Beaumont and on the Catholic Church with ETC editor, Karen Gilman
Q: In a church that is two millennia old, what was the impetus for the changes of these past five decades?
Bishop Guillory: Many of the fruits of the past 50 years really began after the Second Vatican Council. St. John XXIII, then Pope John XXIII, wanted to open the Church, to “throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in.” St. John XXIII opened Vatican II in October 1962. It was completed December 1965 in the papacy of Pope Paul VI. In those first few years after that everyone was working to put into action the spirit of the 16 documents from the Council. The Diocese of Beaumont was the second diocese established in the U.S. after the close of Vatican II, so it hit the ground running with all this inspiration.
Q: What was one of the more visible changes after Vatican II?
A: For the parishioner in the pew, one of the most visible change was the language of the Mass. The celebration of the Mass would be in the vernacular – in the language of the country. For us here in Southeast Texas, it was a change from Latin to English. And the priest no longer celebrated Mass with his back to the congregation. With the priest now facing the people the congregation now knew that they are a part of the liturgy – the people could participate consciously and more fully in the liturgy. In addition through these past 50 years, here in the Diocese of Beaumont we have developed a worship office that is a wonderful resource and leader to the parishes in liturgy. The office not only prepares for major liturgies such as Chrism Mass and special occasions like the upcoming 50th anniversary, it sponsors workshops. With the workshops the people have a better understanding of the liturgy and with a better understanding comes a fuller participation in the Mass. It is a richer liturgy. The people are better nourished spiritually.
Other changes included lay ministers taking an active role at Mass – especially women taking some of these roles. This included girls being altar servers which wasn’t allowed before Vatican II. And the Office of Worship has helped facilitate this as well. We now have trained extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, trained lectors and other ministers at Mass.
“The apostolate of the laity derives from their Christian vocation and the Church can never be without it. Sacred Scripture clearly shows how spontaneous and fruitful such activity was at the very beginning of the Church.”
Q: How has the diocese encouraged the Catholic faith in Southeast Texas?
A: Catholic schools and Catholic religious education have a long history in Southeast Texas with our first school being founded in the late 1800s. Our Catholic schools after Vatican II were opened to everybody, especially the poor. We made a strong effort to open up the doors and invite students. One way we encourage families who may struggle financially is through tuition assistance which is offered at all of the schools here in the Beaumont Diocese. I know that education is a door to opportunity – and we want all to have that opportunity. In addition, it is also a way to teach and expose people to the Catholic faith.
“To fulfill the mandate she has received from her divine founder of proclaiming the mystery of salvation to all men and of restoring all things in Christ, Holy Mother the Church must be concerned with the whole of man’s life, even the secular part of it insofar as it has a bearing on his heavenly calling. Therefore she has a role in the progress and development of education. Hence this sacred synod declares certain fundamental principles of Christian education especially in schools.”
Q: How does something that happened 50 years ago affect our families today?
A: The Second Vatican Council also emphasized ministry that would encourage and support the family. The family is the home community of faith. It is where children first learn about their faith, values and how to live a good life. Married life and family are supported, strengthened and encouraged here in the diocese. Our Family Life Ministry offers workshops and retreats for individuals and couples. We have retreats that help couples prepare for marriage. But we don’t stop there. The ministry also has retreats for married couples to help strengthen their marriages and improve communication. Young adults are encouraged to live their faith. When families may have struggles, Catholic Charities offers other ways to support them such as through the Disaster Assistance program or Elijah’s Place.
The interests of the family, therefore, must be taken very specially into consideration in social and economic affairs, as well as in the spheres of faith and morals. For all of these have to do with strengthening the family and assisting it in the fulfillment of its mission.
Q: In following what St. John XXIII said he wanted when announcing the Second Vatican Council, how has the Church and the diocese worked with the world and especially other faiths?
A: St. John XXIII wanted the church to be in dialogue and interact with the world. The church has something good to offer, the Gospel values, to everyone, no matter what religion or faith. In the 50 years since Vatican II our popes have met, held discussions and prayed with the leaders of many different faiths. In dialogue we learn about each other, and learn from each other.
Locally, after the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001, we brought the Southeast Texas community together. Rabbi Barbara Metzinger of Temple Emanuel and Imam Fahmi AL-Uqdah of the Islamic Society of the Triplex joined me and together we issued the statement “Lord, Make Us Instruments of Your Peace,” one of the first statements of its kind in the United States. It was a commitment to peace by the Jewish, Muslim and Catholic communities here in Southeast Texas. This would never have taken place before Vatican II. Even in our community events religious leaders of different faiths join together. Several religious leaders are planning to attend our 50th anniversary celebration. In addition, I enjoy going to Deli Days at Temple Emanuel and welcome the rabbi and other ministers at the St. Joseph Altar held at St. Anthony.
Q: What do you see as one of the biggest challenges for the local church?
A: One of the greatest challenges for us in our local church is vocations to the ordained and religious life. We need to continue to encourage men and women to be open to religious life. And we, as a community and as individuals, need to pray.
One of the other challenges for our community is ethnic diversity. Our diocese has always been diverse. French Cajuns, African Americans, Mexicans, Italians, Czechs, Vietnamese, others from Europe and South America – and more – have settled throughout Southeast Texas. I see our diversity as a gift. We all have ideas and talents we can share with others. But to do this we need dialogue. We have racial and ethnic tension when we don’t have a dialogue. With dialogue we get to know the other. Before getting to know someone, we may evaluate that person on the perception of what we may have observed or heard but not truly experienced. After dialogue we evaluate not on hearsay or myth but rather in actually knowing that person. We see that we have a common humanity, a common faith, a common background.
Q: What are a couple of your most memorable times here in Southeast Texas?
A: What first comes to mind is when I arrived – my installation at the Montagne Center. To look out and see all these Southeast Texans, all these Catholic faithful and members of other faiths gathered to join in the celebration was inspiring. The welcoming spirit of the community was a great moment and a wonderful way to start off what has now become 16 years of ministry together as one community of faith.
Another was the renovation of the Cathedral and the dedication, followed by it being named a basilica. As we gathered to celebrate those events I was able to see the joy and enthusiasm of the people. St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica is not just a parish church, it is a gathering place for the entire diocese and all the Catholic faithful in Southeast Texas. It is a blessing and a treasure, not just for the Catholic community but the larger community as well. Many times the larger community has gathered with us in times of celebration and in times of tragedy. These times of tragedy include the terrorism of 9/11 and the more recent shootings such as what happened at the nightclub in Orlando.
Q: What inspires you?
A: The people here in Southeast Texas inspire me. The deep faith of the people, their resilience, their spirit of generosity, their ability to take on challenges. I am able to share with them – in their struggles, in their joy. I see their faith. To be able to walk with them through their lives is an inspiration. In times of tragedy I see the resilience, the faith, the response of the people in Southeast Texas willing to help. Whether it is local such as the spring floods, or a tragedy anywhere in the world, the generosity of time, talent and treasure from our Catholic faithful is overwhelming.
Q: What do you think the future holds for the church?
A: I think the future is bright for our local church. Our ministries are vibrant and active in the communities. Retreats such as ACTS enliven people’s faith lives. Our RCIA program brought in over 300 new members to the Church this past spring. Especially if we continue with the same openness and deep faith and pass that on to the next generation, that would be great.
Q: If you could have everyone hear just one message, what would that be?
A: God loves you through His Church.