From mariachis and magic to guitars and God: the legacy of Archbishop Patrick Flores

Whether you're Catholic or not, whether you're Christian or not, chances are you've felt at least a little bit of the impact of San Antonio's Archbishop Emeritus Patrick Flores, who passed away Monday at the age of 87.

Over his 25 years as the leader of San Antonio's Archdiocese, he touched countless people directly through his preaching and community involvement. And he presided over many weddings, baptisms and funerals.

But he also helped connect the rest of us in San Antonio and South Texas indirectly through his work as an interfaith leader.

When I first came to San Antonio in the early 1980's, Flores had only been Archbishop for a few years. But it was clear that he, along with other local religious leaders, had worked to help strengthen the bonds between communities of different faiths. One could sense that there was much more cooperation between those of different religions and different denominations than in other places across the country.

In fact, this Sunday marks the 30th anniversary of San Antonio's Annual Interfaith Service which is part of the city's annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration. That's just one example of interfaith events and dialog which Patrick Flores supported, both through his presence over the years and through making sure it aired on Catholic TV here (which he started).

In his very last mass as Archbishop in 2005 Flores urged people to "support one another regardless of nationality, regardless of color, regardless of religion. We're all members of the same family."

That summed up much of his philosophy and his life and work in San Antonio.

He called himself a servant of the people.

But during interviews we shot with him over the years and talking with him off-camera as well, the usually soft-spoken Archbishop could surprise you now and then.

He could even break into song. Flores said that when he was growing up in Pearland, near Houston, he always loved music, especially mariachi music.

In fact, he shocked a lot of people here about 20 years ago when he admitted on camera that he loved to entertain people when he was younger. He said that at age 19, he loved to sing and dance and tell jokes, and that he even did some magic tricks, some of it at nightclubs (for a short time).

And his love of music became a surprising part of his personal ministry. Over his decades in San Antonio he gave away several thousand guitars to young people.

During a story about this summertime ritual in 2001 he told us it was to help young people stay on the right path.

"I am convinced that if anyone of us, if we are given good opportunities, we will stay on the right path. But very often, if opportunities are not available in the house, school, communities or churches, then they are enticed to go the wrong way, and they follow that."

Other headlines about his passing have highlighted the better-known parts of his life and ministry, including the fact that he was the first Mexican-American to be elevated to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the U.S. when he was named a Bishop in 1970.

Flores also helped bring Pope John Paul II to San Antonio in 1987 for a huge mass, riding in the 'Pope-mobile' with the pontiff.

In 2000, Archbishop Flores was held hostage in his office at the Archdiocese Chancery by a man claiming to have a grenade who was demanding help for his problems dealing with immigration.

Over a nine-hour-long ordeal, the Archbishop tried joking with the man and talking him out of it. He also prayed for the man and promised him he would have a lawyer look into his legal issues.

In the end, the man gave up peacefully and even years later, Flores was helping the man's family.

Flores had been in declining health for a number of years after retiring as San Antonio's Archbishop in 2005, and died Monday afternoon of pneumonia and heart failure at Padua Place, a retirement home for priests.

Shortly before he retired, he told us "one of the most important things to do is to open your heart and love everybody." He went on to say "I get credit for a lot of good things. I may have started them, but someone else is doing them now. I think that we're living in an age where we have to learn to work with everyone else."

A few months later, when Pope John Paul II died, Archbishop Flores told us how he felt.

Flores' comments about the Pope seem fitting today. "He is being called by God for his eternal reward. He deserves it, but don't feel sad. Because I'm happy over what he's accomplished in his lifetime."

Archbishop Emeritus Patrick Flores, Rest in Peace.

For more on the life and legacy of Patrick Flores, check out the SA Archdiocese website.



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