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Diocese of Yakima's outreachmirrors diversity of area

For nearly 10 years, Bishop Carlos Sevilla, SJ, of the Catholic Diocese of Yakima has responded to emerging ministry needs in an area where four French missionaries brought the Gospel in 1847 at the request of Chief Owhi of the Yakama people.

The missionaries, Oblates of Mary Immaculate, founded St. Joseph Mission at the Ahtanum and taught Indians agricultural skills, including the planting of the first orchard in the Yakima Valley.

Although many Yakamas were Catholic, a U.S. government policy made the reservation a Methodist domain, but Catholic influence continued.  In 1871, Jesuits assumed responsibility for the Mission.

Today’s Diocese of Yakima, the seven counties of Central Washington, mirrors the diversity of the area and includes outreach to Native American, Hispanic, Anglo and Asian populations.  Of about 500,000 people in those counties, 15 percent are Catholic and about 70 percent of the Catholic community in Central Washington is Hispanic. 

Diocese of Yakima Bishop

Bishop Carlos Sevilla, SJ

 “In the Diocese of Yakima, we seek to draw people close to Christ, to be Christ’s body,” Bishop Sevilla said.  “Part of drawing people to Christ is to serve their spiritual needs.”

He tries to foster a collaborative pastoral approach, encouraging the participation of the lay Catholic community in the life of the church and society. 

“My role is to promote Catholic faith here in a way that the Catholic community will engage itself in shaping peace through justice and forgiveness,” he said.

Many parishes offer Masses in both Spanish and English, and host events to help English- and Spanish-speaking parishioners come to know one another.

Most of the diocese’s priests are bilingual. The 25 Hispanic priests speak English, and many of the native English-speaking priests are fluent in Spanish.  Of 27 deacons, six are Hispanic and most also speak English.

Some priests serve two communities, because the parishes are too small to support a full-time priest.

To help people in the diocese “be Christ’s body,” the bishop works with a pastoral team that includes priests, deacons, diocesan leaders and members of religious communities to coordinate diocesan ministries.

Those ministries include outreach to Hispanics, youth, young adults and youth gangs, as well as offices focused on respect for life, social justice and catechesis, plus support for prayer groups and the Cursillo movement.

After attending Catholic schools in San Francisco, Bishop Sevilla entered the Jesuit Novitiate in Los Gatos in 1953 when he was 18.  He was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1966 in San Francisco, after earning master’s degrees in philosophy at Gonzaga University in Spokane in 1960 and then in theology at Santa Clara University in California in 1967. 

International experience studying in Austria and France, and visiting El Salvador and Uruguay in the 1980s deepened the bishop’s concerns about justice and intercultural relations.

While teaching theology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles from 1972 to 1980, Bishop Sevilla was assigned to work involving the spiritual formation of members of the California Province of the Society of Jesus.

He was ordained an Auxiliary Bishop of San Francisco in 1989 and appointed Bishop of Yakima in 1997.

The bishop has also served the national Catholic community through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

Nationally, he has offered leadership in the areas of Hispanic affairs, marriage and family life, religious life and ministry, social development and world peace domestic policy, the Campaign for Human Development, translation of liturgical texts into Spanish, the West Coast dialogue of Catholics and Muslims, and dialogue on ecumenical and inter-religious affairs.

The motto Bishop Sevilla chose as bishop is:  “To love and to serve.”

For information, call 965-7117.


By Mary Stamp, The Fig Tree - Copyright © November 2006