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NEW YORK – In a move that adds to the growing profile of Bishop Mark Seitz and recognizes the U.S. Catholic Church’s epochal shift to the southwest, the Vatican has given the Diocese of El Paso an auxiliary bishop for the first time in its 108-year history.
The move could be viewed as a sign of papal favor for the 69-year-old Seitz, after Pope Francis in December complimented Seitz for his pastoral, as opposed to ideological, leadership.
“Permit me to mention a bishop about whom I do not know if he is conservative, or if he is progressive, if he is of the right or of the left, but he is a good pastor: Seitz, on the border with Mexico,” Francis told the Jesuit magazine America.
“He is a man who grasps all the contradictions of that place, and carries them forward as a pastor,” the pope said.
Domestically, Seitz’ profile has grown in both secular and Catholic spheres in recent years, with the prelate becoming a prominent voice for immigration advocacy and congressional reform through the still-unfolding crisis at the southern border.
Seitz met President Joe Biden last month when the commander-in-chief visited El Paso to assess the border situation.
Back in November, Seitz was the clear choice of the U.S. bishops to lead its national migration ministry. His election to lead the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration marked the first time a bishop from a Texas border diocese was chosen for the role.
Beyond Seitz, the appointment of an auxiliary bishop to El Paso is another sign of the national church’s shift to the southwest. The Diocese of El Paso comprises 26,686 square miles in the State of Texas. It has a total population of 932,088 and a Catholic population of 720,009 – about 80 percent of the diocesan population. Both the total and Catholic population continue to grow.
In a news conference announcing Father Anthony Celino as El Paso’s first auxiliary bishop, Seitz explained that he requested the Vatican add an auxiliary bishop to the diocese based on its population and unique situation along the border.
“The Lord has once again surprised us with this great sign of his care for us and the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has once again shown his special attention to the Diocese of El Paso as our diocese has been granted the service of an auxiliary bishop,” Seitz said, adding that Celino is one of the diocese’s “most loved, respected, and talented priests.”
The Vatican publicized the appointment on Feb. 8.
Celino is a longtime priest and administrator in the Diocese of El Paso. Born in the Philippines in 1972 and ordained a priest in 1997, he is the third Filipino elected to the U.S. episcopacy.
Outside of 2001-2003, when Celino studied canon law at The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., he has ministered in El Paso. He has led St. Raphael parish in El Paso since 2017, and before that led St. Lucia parish, also in El Paso.
Celino has also held a number of administrative roles in the diocese including judicial vicar, diocesan administrator, vicar general, moderator of the curia, and chancellor.
“He brings a great deal of wisdom, knowledge and prudence to the table. He also has great relationships with the priests and the people of the diocese,” Seitz said. “I believe Bishop Celino will be a very valuable worker with me in this ministry for the good of the church of El Paso.”
Celino said the appointment is something he never expected would happen.
“I really thought that I would spend my life in spiritual work and service to the parish where I found so much joy and meaning,” Celino said. “Now life takes a new turn. I am very grateful to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, and to Bishop Mark Seitz, for the confidence given to me as I accept this new responsibility.”
Celino’s episcopal ordination is scheduled for March 31 at St. Patrick Cathedral in El Paso.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg