Bishop to lead historic festivities at Ysleta Mission
Bishop Mark J. Seitz has announced that the El Paso Diocesan Church will celebrate its 100th birthday March 1 at the Ysleta Mission.
The mission is the oldest Catholic institution in the area that has become the Diocese of El Paso.
The celebration will include a concert, a parade of parishes and a Mass offered by Bishop Seitz.
“On March 5, 1914, St. Pope Pius X announced that this unique border region of far west Texas and at that time, Southern New Mexico, would become a local Church with a Bishop of its own,” the bishop noted.
Renowned armless guitarist Tony Melendez will be featured in the celebration’s concert.
Catholics throughout the diocese are being invited through their parishes to participate in the centennial celebration.
Meanwhile the U.S. House of Representatives, the El Paso City Council and El Paso County Commissioners are expected to pass resolutions recognizing the diocesan anniversary.
“Of course, the Church had been here for centuries already. The mission churches had been built and rebuilt numerous times by the time 1914 came around,” Bishop Seitz noted in his message in the January issue of the Rio Grande Catholic.
“The Faith already had deep roots in the Rio Grande valley soil,” he said.
“Through the years the life and witness of God’s people has woven the Faith into the very fabric of our community. The culture as well as the history of our border region could not be understood without factoring in the role of this Faith lived within the Church,” the bishop wrote.
He added,“If there was ever a time when we ought to celebrate, this is it!”
Melendez, who last performed in El Paso in 2009,, played his guitar for Pope John Paul II in Los Angeles, Sept. 1, 1987. Born without arms, he performed a touching song entitled Never Be The Same. When the Pope approached him from the stage to kiss him in appreciation, it seemed to reflect the sentiments of the entire country.
Never Be the Same was an appropriate song, for those few moments changed Tony Melendez’ life and brought his unrestrained abilities as a guitarist into national attention.
A thalidomide baby, Tony was born without arms because his mother was prescribed thalidomide a drug used to help calm morning sickness during her pregnancy. He was brought to the Los Angeles area from Nicaragua to be fitted with artificial arms. He wore them until he was ten, when he disposed of them. “I didn’t feel comfortable,” he explains, “I could use my feet so much more.”
His proficiency with his feet extended to more areas than just day-to-day care. He remembers that “at first, I started playing push-button organ. Then in high school I began playing around with the guitar and harmonica.” He also began writing his own songs. Whether it was “playing around” with music or merely adjusting to a normal high school routine, Tony never let his handicap get in his way.
“I was pretty secure in what I could do,” he says.
It was also in high school that he became deeply involved in the Catholic Church. “I went when I was a kid because my parents took me. I drifted away as I got a little older. When I was in high school, my brother kept saying ‘come on, you’ve gotta go. It’s great!’ So I went again and made a lot of friends, and wound up changing my life in the process.
During this time, he considered becoming a priest but couldn’t, because priests were required to have an index finger and thumb. The news disappointed him but he persevered in his church activities, using his talents as a guitarist and composer for masses and church related events. Demand for him increased to the point where he was directing and singing in music groups at up to five masses on a given Sunday. It caught people’s attention, including someone with the group organizing activities for the monumental visit of Pope John Paul II in 1987.
“Someone pulled my name out of somewhere and asked me to go to a meeting,” Tony recalls. “I wasn’t sure what it was.” It turned out to be an audition and Tony was accepted. “I was really excited when I heard.”
Excitement became nervousness and then jubilation when the Pope responded to Tony’s playing, with a kiss. He notes now that he wasn’t sure how to react.