New rector of downtown cathedral hopes to revitalize herd after pandemic wreaks havoc

Father Jesús Belmontes is very clear about his objective: he wants to make the Cathedral Sanctuary of the Virgin of Guadalupe a sanctuary close to people, especially immigrants.

Effective July 1, he will be the new rector of Guadalupe Cathedral, the largest church in the Catholic Diocese of Dallas. Appointed by Bishop Edward J. Burns, Belmontes replaces Father Stephen Bierschenk, who will be the new chaplain of St. Jude’s Chapel in Dallas.

After immigrating from Mexico to Dallas almost two decades ago, Belmontes will be a central figure in the diocese. He said he plans to continue his work as pastor of needy immigrants, only now from the cathedral.

For 12 years, Belmontes was pastor in the parish of San Juan Diego, in an area northwest of Dallas near Bachman Lake, which has a large Hispanic population.

Jesús Belmontes was pastor of the parish of San Juan Diego in northwest Dallas for 12 years. There, he led a crusade to help the region’s most vulnerable immigrants.(Vernon Bryant / Staff Photographer)

San Juan Diego is known as one of the most active Catholic communities in North Texas.

The church regularly hosts events that draw large crowds, and its pastor enjoys credibility with his congregation.

“There are no words to describe the work of Father Jesús and how he built this community of help and love for the neighbor,” said Margarito “Junior” García, deputy director of the ministry of hospitality in San Juan Diego.

“It’s amazing how people are spilling out of the church and standing in the hallways listening to mass,” García said. “This does not happen in other parishes.

The immigrant priest

Belmontes, 47, was born in Zamora, Michoacán, a bulwark of the Catholic Church in Mexico and one of the most conservative regions of the country, where Catholicism plays an important role in families and the social life of the community. .

When he was 5 or 6 years old, Belmontes emigrated with his parents and eight siblings to Dallas.

After a short stay, the family decided to go their separate ways, as their parents did not like the harsh climate of extreme cold and heat.

So they returned to Mexico with their youngest children, with Jesús Belmontes among them. Some of the adults, who were already in their twenties, stayed at work.

At age 10, Belmontes attended the ordination of his older brother, José Eugenio, who is 15 years older than him.

For Belmontes, it was a turning point – and he decided that he too would become a priest when he grew up.

“I was very captivated by his ordination. I tried to emulate him, ”Belmontes said. “I realized that God was calling me to serve him too.”

From an early age, Belmontes had a desire to return to the United States to work as a priest in Dallas, as his family was here.

Even today, six of his eight brothers and sisters live in the jurisdiction of the diocese.

Belmontes said his goals include placing a renewed emphasis on treating parishioners with compassion and increasing attendance. "The pandemic hit the church as a whole," he said. "We have to bring people back.
Belmontes said his goals include placing a renewed emphasis on treating parishioners with compassion and increasing attendance. “The pandemic has hit the church as a whole,” he said. “We have to bring people back. “(Brandon Wade / Special Contributor)

“We came after the holidays. I was interested in the ways of the community and the need Hispanics had for someone to celebrate Mass and look after them in their own language, ”he said.

“The white priests made a great effort to speak Spanish. But I thought there was a need for someone who spoke it well.

Jesús Belmontes studied for the priesthood in his hometown of Zamora. When he was finished, he arrived in Dallas as a deacon with limited fluency in English.

Belmontes was ordained and incorporated into the Diocese of Dallas in 2004.

He served in the parishes of St. Edward in Dallas and Immaculate Conception in Grand Prairie, before being appointed pastor of San Juan Diego, where he led a crusade to help the area’s most vulnerable immigrants.

Dallas community leaders recognized Belmontes’ work to help the Hispanic community.

“Father Jesús is a truly dynamic leader, as well as a pastor who is making a difference in our community,” said Dave Woodyard, president of Catholic Charities of Dallas.

“He is a man who is always ready to help others and who always seeks the good of all,” said Eddie Reyes, head of the Unidos division of the Dallas Police Department.

“There are no words to describe the kindness and commitment of Father Jesús,” said Joséphine López-Paul, organizer of Dallas Area Interfaith.

“It’s an honor to work with him to get food and rent assistance for people. He has been a key figure for Dallas’ most needy Hispanics during this pandemic. “

A new challenge

Although he still does not have a detailed plan of what he will do at the cathedral, Belmontes said he already has some general ideas about the new post he will take on July 1.

“The cathedral had a drop in herd. The pandemic has hit the church as a whole. We have to bring people back, ”Belmontes said.

“My plan is to elevate the cathedral spiritually and financially,” he said. “We cannot give financial aid because first we have to know what the situation is. The pandemic has affected the finances of the church in every way.

Belmontes’ plan is to transform the church into a place of support and comfort for Catholics most in need and to continue the social work he does in San Juan Diego.

There will be no big staff changes at the cathedral, he said. Instead, it will work for community engagement and a transformation of consciousness.

Dallas Children's Medical Center Wednesday, June 16, 2021 (Lola Gomez / The Dallas Morning News)

“Sometimes we lose focus and forget that the church is not a business, but a family of people seeking God. Some are more damaged than others, and we must be tactful and treat them all with kindness, love and patience.

Belmontes said he would work first on accepting those who will work with him and the new community he will serve, which is more diverse than the one he oversaw in San Juan Diego.

Although a little nervous because he said he felt his English is far from perfect, he knows the cathedral will give him the opportunity to preach to all kinds of people – from business executives who attend Mass during their lunch hour to those who live on the streets.

Upon his appointment, Belmontes said, the bishop told him that his main task will be to revitalize the most important church in the diocese and to attract the Hispanic community to the area.

Belmontes said he would promote religious celebrations for Catholics, including Virgin of Guadalupe Day and the Day of the Dead, because they unite people in faith and community spirit.

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