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John Courtney Murray Award 2007
Virgilio Elizondo

The person who will receive the John Courtney Murray award tonight embodies many of the contending forces and identities that characterize our world today, and he does so with grace and humor. One commentator has described our honoree as someone committed to the basic message “that God cherishes, esteems, values, respects, treasures, forgives, and loves every one of us.” Another has described this person as bringing out the best in others, but our colleague would be more inclined to say that the first proclamation of the Gospel occurs when we are willing to learn from everyone, even the most inconspicuous of people.

Our honoree has reported that as a child, “the parish was the only institution where we felt fully at home” and yet today seems “at home” in a variety of nations and cultures.

Our colleague has written on topics as diverse as poverty, preaching, modern culture and Christian faith, creativity, ritual, and catechesis. He served twenty years on the editorial board of Concilium. Among the places he has taught are UC Santa Barbara, Union Seminary, Boston College, and the Claremont School of Theology.

He studied on three continents, doing his doctoral work at the Institut Catholique in Paris. He has served as faculty member, director of religious education, academic dean, and president.  He has received several honorary doctorates and has been honored with awards from various universities, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and the National Federation of Priests Councils.

His stature has been recognized beyond academe. He has appeared on the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour and Ted Koppel’s Nightline. Time magazine recognized him as one of the leading spiritual innovators in the US. In addition, I would venture to guess that he is the only member of the CTSA who has had a city plaza named in his honor.

When our honoree decided to enter the seminary, he didn’t even have to leave his home parish. In fact, although he is an internationally renowned author and speaker, he has lived in the same neighborhood most of his life. Like the Israelites of old, our honoree is no individualist: his theological vision is fundamentally shaped by his belonging to a people, a minority culture in the United States. And of course, it is precisely those who know multiple cultures who can show us how to break down the divisive barriers between peoples.

His own experience of straddling boundaries has given him great empathy for those who must struggle to live in the present without feeling torn apart (or as he puts it, without feeling “disintegrated”) in their encounters with marginalization and injustice. For him, this very search for meaning is decisive to the experience of faith and the proclamation of the Gospel. And yet in spite of the injustices, he has also said that “the totality of life is reflected in celebration . . . which is not an escape from the world of problems but a bringing of the whole day into the recognition that life is a gift. Life is to be lived, appreciated, and celebrated.”

Our honoree tonight was born in 1935, was ordained a diocesan priest in 1963, and served as the rector of the Cathedral for twelve years. He has spoken often of the two conquests that the indigenous peoples of the region have endured: the Spanish conquest of a continent and a half and the U.S. conquest of what is now the Southwest. Thus it is out of the experience of this history that he founded a series of liturgical rituals, including the re-enactment at Christmas of the journey of Mary and Joseph, with the couple being turned away at city hall, the courthouse, and hotels, before finding shelter at the cathedral.

Our honoree founded the Mexican American Cultural Center in 1972 and was its first president. He was the executive producer, chief liturgist, and frequent celebrant of the only internationally televised live Mass in the Americas. His books include The Human Quest: A Search for Meaning through Life and Death; A God of Incredible Surprises: Jesus of Galilee; Galilean Journey: The Mexican-American Promise; Guadalupe: Mother of the New Creation; and Way of the Cross: The Passion of Christ in the Americas. He is currently Professor of Pastoral and Hispanic Theology at the University of Notre Dame.

This colleague of ours is widely recognized in the religious and academic world as “the father of U.S. Latino religious thought.” He has not only written extensively in this field but has been a mentor and even a father figure for many of our colleagues in Hispanic, Latino, and Latina theology. In fact, the highest award given by ACHTUS, the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States is named in his honor. But he has also helped innumerable of us Anglos in the North to understand the insights that arise from Hispanic faith and theology in the South

For all these reasons, the Catholic Theological Society of America tonight presents the John Courtney Murray Award, its highest honor for distinguished achievement in theology, to Fr. Virgilio Elizondo.

Award text for 2007: Virgilio Elizondo (pdf file)

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