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Senior Profile: Fathers to a community

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By Lupita Gonzales

The legendary East-West Las Vegas division debate virtually fades in the light of at least one nexus which unites members of the Roman Catholic community on both sides of the Gallinas — and beyond.

Father George Salazar and Father C. John Brasher, pastors of Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Sorrows parishes, respectively, agree on a key concept, “One town, one family.” And so it is.

Both pastors are diocesan (or secular) priests, meaning that they “live in the world,” as opposed to being under monastic rule. It is, perhaps, a moot point, as the focus of their work is the spiritual and general welfare of their communities. What is patent, however, is the mutual respect and collegial relationship between the two leaders and among the membership of their two parishes.

Each brings his particular history to the fore. Fathers John and George both attest to a commonality in their early callings to the priestly vocation.

Fr. Brasher recalls his mother’s notation in his baby book that at 4 years of age, he said he wanted to be a priest when he grew up.

Fr. Salazar, likewise, felt the calling in his youth. At age 7, he recalls, “I had a prompting to serve the Lord. It’s what I wanted to be.” He also remembers his parents’ urging him to wait.

Both young men grew up in somewhat extended family atmospheres. Brasher claims New Mexico as his home, as he was raised in the Santa Rosa-Puerto de Luna area, along with his six brothers and two sisters. Bi- or even tri-linguality was part of his growing up experience, as his father, Clarence often conversed in Spanish, his mother, Frieda, in German, and, both, no doubt, in English.

George Salazar, son of the late Vicente Salazar and Rosa Bustos, echoes an oft-heard New Mexican assertion, “I’m related to everyone in town — the Mares, Martinez, Bustos and Garcia families — saints and sinners all....”

The upshot is that both pastors focus on their relationship with the people of their parishes — a virtual collaboration in the mission of universality. When asked about their distinctive styles in the pulpit, a general consensus emerges — the importance of parishioner involvement in virtually all aspects. Now that’s an incarnation of the lower case term, catholic — universal!

And certainly, the help of deacons Leroy Martinez and Reyes Sanchez of OLOS, and Ernest Chavez and Peter Campos of IC, must be recognized in the delivery of services to their parishes.

Brasher says he likes to keep his eye on the congregation, watching for reaction, using humor, “giving them a sense of what they’re about.”

Salazar, as well, is noted for his direct, yet amiable pulpit style — his notorious “Naranjas!” punctuates many a homily. He clarifies, “Just one of those words that pops into your head to substitute for something less acceptable.”

It is obvious that both men are cognizant of the human factors which surround their spiritual leadership. George recalls once when he went ice fishing and a fellow fisherman nearby used some off-color language. He struck up a conversation, eventually asking Father George what he did for a living.

“I’m a priest,” he said.

Silence. “Then the man said, ‘Forgive me. I didn’t know who you were.’” Evidently, people in general will respect societal standards which become evident.

When asked about their casual dress versus the “formal habits,” both priests chuckle. Fr. Brasher interjects, “He’s got a lot of bad ones.” Fr. George adds, “Aunque la mona se vista de seda, mona se queda.” (Although the monkey is dressed in silk, she’s still a monkey.)

Both agree that casual dress is not a problem, and not being formally dressed often becomes an open door for communication. Brasher admits, “I like them to come to know me before.” Both attest that people of their parishes give them respect, nevertheless. Both do wear the traditional Roman collar and black shirt and the vestments appropriate to a particular Church service and season.

Over a two-week period, the Optic interviewed and were welcomed by Frs. Brasher and Salazar at their respective offices, with their secretaries, Tania Ortega at I.C. and Catherine Gallegos at OLOS, efficiently making the arrangements. Later, despite jokes about “passports and visas” and “crossing the river,” the two priests accommodated the interviewers on the Immaculate Conception grounds for photos and a few more questions.

The two priests’ conviviality, as well as obviously common concern for the well-being of their parishioners, was patent as the final, short meeting progressed. On a general note, it is well known that both parishes welcome any visitor to church services and functions. In fact, it is common to encounter “regulars” who cross the bridge — either side — to meet their personal faith and social needs.

Truly, there exists a feeling of unity and of being embraced, regardless of their difference or their sameness, in being Catholic.