Bishop Manz’s ministry included work with migrants

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Bishop John Manz talks to a migrant worker after celebrating Mass in a barn on a tomato farm with workers in Steele, Alabama, on Oct. 24, 2013. Bishop Manz toured Alabama Oct. 21-24 that year to visit migrant workers on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When Bishop John Manz began attending meetings of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops after his episcopal ordination in 1996, he quickly learned that the big semiannual meetings were not where the action was.

There were too many people and the meetings were too tightly planned to build many genuine relationships.

“One of the bishops suggested to us new bishops that you try to get on one or two committees,” Bishop Manz said. “You can sit down and talk about an issue among yourselves. And of course, the committees I was on, we would do trips. When you travel with a group of three, four, five guys, you can’t help but get to know them.”

Bishop Manz served on the USCCB’s Committee on Migration and Refugee Services starting in 1999, was chairman of the Committee on the Church in Latin America from 2003 to 2006 and was a member starting in 2010; was chairman of the Subcommittee on the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees and Travelers starting in 2007, as well as serving as chairman of the administrative committee (2003-2006) and as a member of the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church (2008-2010).

No one should get the idea that the trips Bishop Manz took as part of his committee work were junkets just for pleasure, said Father Juan Molina, now president of the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio. Molina worked with Bishop Manz on the Committee for the Church in Latin America, setting up the guidelines for USCCB grants to Latin American church organizations, deciding on grantees and also visiting them.

“If they are more familiar with a grantee, with a country, with a situation, with a mission, with the bishops there, then our bishops have a much greater idea of how much to give, how much not to give, what to require of them,” Molina said. For example, the U.S. bishops might give a grant to Latin American country’s national seminary, but stipulate that the aid help seminarians from outlying dioceses rather than the country’s central archdiocese, which often has more resources.

Bishop Manz maintained his down-to-earth reputation on those trips, Molina said. Once, visiting the national seminary in Nicaragua, he got up in the morning and told his travel companions that they had to increase the seminary’s grant.

“He said we need to increase their grant so they can buy new beds,” Molina said.

The people they visited in Latin America appreciated Bishop Manz’s “shepherd’s heart,” he said.

“I think he would be recognized among the bishops of Latin America as a humble man and also a very pastoral man,” Molina said. “As he visited representing the U.S. bishops, people always saw that he was there with his entire heart and being. He really was there because he cared for the people.”

At the same time, the U.S. bishops who traveled together forged their own relationships, sharing their experiences on car rides that could last hours.

Bishop Manz also traveled within the United States, visiting migrant workers in states including California, Utah, Oregon, Ohio, Florida, Washington, Arkansas, Alabama and Kentucky, and leading trips to the U.S.-Mexico border.

His personal knowledge and commitment helped keep the church in the United States focused on the needs of migrants, said Elena Segura, the Archdiocese of Chicago’s senior coordinator for immigration — national ministry.

He had a prophetic voice, she said, keeping the issue in front of the bishops.

“His role is, you have to have a little oil in the lamp to keep it burning,” she said. “He’s one who’s been putting oil in the lamp to keep the flame alive.”

For his part, Bishop Manz said his days of traveling throughout the Americas are likely coming to an end, as his health has made such journeys more difficult. He appreciates the opportunities he had, though.

“You learn more about other people, and about yourself,” he said.

New bishops would do well to get out of their own dioceses and work on a broader stage, he said.

“Sometimes at the beginning when you’re brand new, you might think, ‘I don’t have time for it,’” Bishop Manz said. “But it’s something you should do.”



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