Bishop-elect Pulido is ‘here to serve and to love’


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SAN DIEGO — In early June, Father Felipe Pulido told his mother that he needed to call a family meeting because he had big news to share.

She had her suspicions about what the major revelation would be: Her son was leaving the priesthood, she thought.

Boy, was she wrong!

A priest of the Diocese of Yakima, Wash., the 53-year-old Father Pulido has been named one of two new auxiliary bishops for the Diocese of San Diego. The other is Father Michael Pham, a priest of the diocese who currently serves as vicar general, head of the Office for Ethnic and Intercultural Communities, and pastor of Good Shepherd Parish in Mira Mesa.

The two men will be consecrated bishops at a Mass celebrated Sept. 28. They will join Auxiliary Bishop Ramón Bejarano assisting Cardinal Robert W. McElroy in ministering to the almost 1.5 million Catholics of San Diego and Imperial counties.

On June 6, the date that their appointments were announced, the two auxiliary bishops-elect were introduced to the staff at the diocesan Pastoral Center.

“I’m very grateful to Pope Francis for understanding the vitality of the Diocese of San Diego and the need for pastoral leadership in San Diego, and for appointing two additional auxiliary bishops,” Cardinal McElroy told the staff.

Describing the appointments as “a great grace to us as a diocese,” Cardinal McElroy jokingly referred to the two men beside him – Father Pulido, a native of Mexico, and Father Pham, who was born in Vietnam – as “twins.”

When it was his turn to speak, Bishop-elect Pulido gave local Catholics a first glimpse of the character and personality of one of their two new shepherds.

“My first question to God when I received the announcement was, ‘Why me? Why me?’ There are so many other people that can do better than I,” he said.

He recalled becoming emotional when the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, phoned to inform him that he had been named auxiliary bishop. And he confessed that he initially didn’t know how to respond.

Fortunately for him, the nuncio had a suggestion: “Just say yes.”

“Looking back, that’s how my life has been, just saying yes to the Lord,” the bishop-elect told the Pastoral Center staff.

Bishop-elect Pulido was born on Jan. 13, 1970, in Dos Aguas, Michoacán, Mexico, a small town west of Mexico City. He was the first of José M. Pulido and Cristina Lopez’s seven children.

While addressing the Pastoral Center staff, he shared how he accepted an invitation to attend a middle school and high school seminary in Michoacán, when he was 12 years old.

“I said, ‘Okay, why not? I’ll go and see what it’s like.’ And I loved it,” he said.

But ultimately, he left the seminary to gain “a little more experience in the world, to see what it’s like to have a girlfriend … and get a job.”

In an interview with The Southern Cross the following day, he expanded upon the story of the first stirrings of his priestly vocation. Before entering the seminary, he was attending Mass at his home parish, when a group of seminarians spoke to the congregation.

“I listened to them … and one thing that I really liked was that they were very happy,” he said. “They laughed, and they were just having a good time.”

Their joy was attractive.

After Mass, he told his grandmother that he wanted to be a priest. She was surprised, but “looked up to Heaven” and thanked God for having answered her prayer to have a priest in the family.

In the summer of 1988, he moved with his parents to the Yakima Valley in Washington State, where he found work in the booming agricultural sector, picking fruit and vegetables with his family.

He graduated from Highland High School in Cowiche, and for three years worked as a teacher assistant with the Epic Migrant Head Start program.

His sense of a call to the priesthood returned and grew stronger when he was 23 years old. For a period of about five months, he helped care for Father Jerry Corrigan, a priest in his parish who was dying of cancer.

He and Father Corrigan had many conversations during that time and, during one of them, the dying priest invited him to consider entering the priesthood. Bishop-elect Pulido, who was dating someone at the time and wasn’t seriously considering becoming a priest, said he would think about it.

“And then, I just said yes again, because I loved the diocese,” he said.

In 1994, he began his priestly formation at Mt. Angel Seminary in Oregon. Four years later, he began theological studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, when now Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York was the rector.

Bishop-elect Pulido, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, became a U.S. citizen in 1998. From 2001 to 2002, he studied at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Rome.

He was ordained to the priesthood on June 28, 2002, by Bishop Carlos A. Sevilla, S.J., at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Yakima.

At the time of his appointment as auxiliary bishop of San Diego, he was serving as vicar for clergy and as vocations director for the Diocese of Yakima, as well as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Kennewick, Wash., which is home to about 2,300 registered families and a parochial school with about 300 students.

Bishop-elect Pulido shared with the Pastoral Center staff that, while his “first passion is the Lord, the Church, the people,” he is also an avid soccer fan – particularly for the Jalisco-based team Chivas. He recounted an incident when he had been watching a televised soccer championship game in his office and inadvertently startled his secretary with the shouting that she could hear coming from his office.

“Yeah,” he said understatedly, “I get really excited about soccer.”

Bishop-elect Pulido is currently wrapping up his assignments in the Diocese of Yakima and will be returning to San Diego in late August.

“I’m excited and, at the same time, I’m very nervous,” he said about beginning his new role as a bishop.

“I’m happy to be here in San Diego. … I’m here to serve and to love,” he said, explaining that he sees himself as “a servant leader.”

Since news of his appointment has spread, he said he has received many emails and texts from friends asking if they can do anything to support him.

His answer is always the same: “The best thing you can do for me — just pray.”

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