Pope Francis on Tuesday named an emigrant from Spain as auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, elevating a priest who recently was put in charge of Hispanic ministry in the diocese.
The appointment of the Rev. Luis Miguel Romero, 65, who holds a doctorate in biology and has served for decades overseas, was announced in Washington, D.C., by the pope’s representative to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre.
Bishop John Barres, spiritual leader of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, called Romero “a true intellectual with the ‘smell of the sheep,’” a reference to Pope Francis’ famous phrase that he wants his bishops and priests to be close to the people and not living isolated lives of splendor.
In a video announcement on the diocesan website, a clearly overjoyed Barres called it an “unbelievable appointment.”
“Bishop-elect Romero has an exceptional capacity, with his extensive academic background in religion and science, to address how the truths of the Catholic faith in regard to the Gospel of Life, Catholic social justice teaching, and the church’s advocacy in history of ethical scientific development need to be brought directly and compellingly into the public square,” Barres said in a statement.
RECENT STOP IN HEMPSTEAD
Romero has served for the last six years as pastor of Our Lady of Loretto Roman Catholic Church in Hempstead, one of the largest Latino parishes on Long Island. He is a member of the Idente Missionaries, a Catholic congregation founded in Spain that was invited to help minister to Long Island’s booming Latino Catholic population in 2014 by then-Bishop William Murphy.
In December, Barres named Romero Vicar for Hispanic Ministry and Evangelization in the diocese, a post he will continue to hold.
Latinos make up at least 30 percent of the diocese’s 1.4 million Catholics, according to community leaders and church officials. They are seen as key nationwide to the future of the church, which has been buffeted by declining attendance at Mass, fewer vocations to the priesthood, and a sexual abuse scandal.
As one of four auxiliary bishops in the diocese, the eighth-largest in the nation, Romero will assist Barres in his duties ministering to all Catholics, conducting Confirmations, meeting with priests and other activities.
Romero will be installed April 16 during a Mass at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre.
In an interview on the Catholic Faith Network on Tuesday morning, Romero showed some of his self-deprecating humor, saying of his appointment: “I have to believe that the Holy Spirit has not committed a mistake. It was very difficult for me to believe.”
Romero’s predecessor as vicar for Hispanic Ministry, Nelson Perez, a Cuban-American, was recently named Archbishop of Philadelphia.
Romero noted that in his recent installation in Philadelphia, Perez said: “Let us never stop believing in what the Holy Spirit can do in us, through us and despite of us.”
“In that spirit — perhaps in my case more ‘despite of me’ — I receive this appointment, believing that only grace can realize the keys that I received in my vocation: to live and transmit the Gospel with the sacrifice of my life and my reputation, faithful to the greatest testimony of love, to give up my life together with Christ for our Heavenly Father,” Romero said in statement.
WORKING AROUND THE GLOBE
Romero previously worked for 35 years overseas as a missionary in South America and India. He has published articles in numerous publications and has presented at conferences in the fields of biology, philosophy of science, ethics, theology, distance education and university management.
Born in northern Spain in 1954, he grew up in the southern region of Andalusia. He recalls as a young man seeing a monument in the city of Huelva of Christopher Columbus looking at America and embracing a cross. “At that time I did not imagine that my life would be a replica of it — look at America and embrace the cross,” Romero said.
After he was ordained a priest in 1981, he ended up spending 25 years in the South American nations of Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador. He served as both a parish priest and a university administrator and professor.
In Ecuador, he served as chancellor, or head, of the Private Technical University of Loja, a Catholic university under the administration of the Idente Missionaries that is now considered one of the top universities in Ecuador.
After his time in South America, Romero served for two years in India, where the southern part of the country has a substantial number of Christians, he said. From India he transferred to Hempstead.
“Bishop-elect Romero’s pastoral artistry and evangelizing leadership as pastor of the Parish of Our Lady of Loretto in Hempstead will translate well in his new role of assisting me and my brother bishops in the pastoral care of the diocese,” Barres said.
Romero said that despite his globe-trotting, he has become rooted on Long Island just as he has in his other overseas postings. “I am a Long Islander,” he said, “although my accent is not very Long Islander. But I am.”