By Tony Gutierrez, Catholic News Service
TUCSON, Ariz. (CNS) – As Father Eusebio Kino rode his horse through what is now Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, he was known to sing the hymn “O Lux Beata” and recite the litanies of Loreto.
Inspired by this, Carlos Zapién composed music to accompany these traditional hymns and prayers to be created during a solemn Vespers service commemorating the death of the Jesuit missionary 311 years ago.
“As human beings, we are drawn to sound, and the sacredness of this composition invites us to reflect,” Zapién said. “Knowing the context of why we sing ‘O Lux Beata’ will invite people to learn more about what Father Kino has done in our area.”
Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Tucson presided over and preached the March 20 prayer service at St. Augustine’s Cathedral.
It was the first occasion to publicly commemorate the March 15, 1711, death of the Jesuit priest and candidate for sainthood since he was declared “Venerable” by Pope Francis on July 11, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. 19. “Venerable” is a statement of a person’s heroic virtues.
Known as “Padre on Horseback” and referred to as “Padre Kino”, he brought Christianity to Upper Pimería, a region encompassing parts of what is now southern Arizona in the United States and northern Sonora in Mexico.
The priest also introduced, among other things, animal husbandry and new agricultural methods to the region.
Born in Segno near Trento, Italy, Padre Kino became a Jesuit priest in 1677 and was sent to New Spain. His body is buried in what is now Magdalena de Kino in Sonora, Mexico.
“I love the image of the athlete running the race, and it immediately applies not only to Venerable Padre Kino and how he denied himself to ‘race’ his great mission in the Upper Pimería, but also in what sometimes seems to have been his relentless race through a territory so vast and extensive that few have ever crossed it like him,” Bishop Weisenburger said in his homily.
He referenced a quote from the evening reading of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians: “Like the wisest of all athletes he had his eye on the prize, and we think the prize is now well his.”
The bishop also compared Padre Kino’s mission to that of the Old Testament figure of Melchizedek, the mysterious king-priest, in Psalm 110, the first reading of the prayer service.
“I found myself wondering one day in prayer, what it would have been like for the local people of Upper Pimeria to have this mysterious holy man, this priest, emerge from their own desert – arriving from a distant place and mysterious – and telling them of a God who had always been theirs – long before they had even heard of him,” he thought to himself.
“A priest who did not begin his preaching with the fact that they were ‘lost’ and needed to be found – because in truth they were not – but rather, that even without knowing it yet they were loved and embraced and cherished by that God whom he preached – a God of compassion and mercy,” Bishop Weisenburger said. “A God who truly loved them no less than this mysterious God loved the people who had sent this Padre Kino.”
Prior to the evening prayer service, the Arizona State Council of the Knights of Columbus hosted a luncheon at the Diocesan Chancery office in Tucson, adjacent to the cathedral.
“Our calling as Knights is to support our Church and help men become stronger Catholics, better fathers, better husbands,” Knights state advocate Lawrence Powers said in an interview. . “Father Kino showed it. Most of us will fail, but we look to people like Padre Kino to lead us by example of how we should live our lives today.
Over lunch, State Senator Sally Ann Gonzales—a member of the Pascua Yaqui tribe, one of the tribes Padre Kino served in his lifetime—presented Bishop Weisenburger with a tribal seal pin.
“Father Kino is highly respected in the Indigenous community because of the dignity he gave people by doing his work here,” Gonzales said.
Its legislative district includes northwest Pima County, covering parts of Tucson and the Pascua Yaqui Reservation. Gonzales attends Cristo Rey Church on the reservation, a mission of St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish in Tucson.
The Kino Heritage Society, whose mission is to promote the cause of the canonization of Padre Kino in the United States and to educate people about his legacy, organized the event.
Society president Rosie Garcia said the group plans to celebrate its anniversary on Aug. 10, hold a symposium in November, and later this year mark the 55th anniversary of the Padre Kino statue placed in across from the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix.
A statue of Padre Kino also represents Arizona in the National Statuary Hall Collection at the US Capitol in Washington.
“We hope that over time people will learn to recognize that Padre Kino is a man for all seasons, for all times,” Garcia said. “He doesn’t need to be back in the 18th century. He is here with us. He is still very much alive.