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Bishop-elect Oscar Cantú sits in his office on Tuesday. Cantú will be installed at 2 p.m. Thursday as the new bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces.
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Learn more about Bishop Oscar Cantú.
Editor's note: Follow the Sun-News Thursday for live coverage of the installation of the new bishop for the Las Cruces diocese and through the day for coverage of Pope Benedict XVI retirement.

LAS CRUCES - Major changes in the Catholic Church take place Thursday, not only worldwide but in Las Cruces and southern New Mexico.

The Rev. Oscar Cantú, 46, will be installed Thursday as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces. Cantú becomes only the second bishop of the diocese. He replaces retiring Bishop Ricardo Ramírez, who retires after serving as bishop of the 46-parish and 45-mission diocese since October 1982.

In his first extensive interview, Cantú provides some insight about himself, sharing his goal, impressions, and opinions as he is about to become an important religious official for Catholics living in 10 New Mexico counties - a third of the state.

Personally, Cantú admits he is an avid basketball fan, and is looking forward to following up on an offer from New Mexico State University officials to take in some Aggie basketball games. As a Texas native, he said there's probably going to be some adjusting to the zesty taste of New Mexico's chile.

Cantú also has a few questions about southern New Mexico's weather. He arrived Sunday just as a strong wind storm blew through Las Cruces.

Here are the highlights of Cantú's comments. A full version of the interview is available in the video below.

Question: You have said you haven't spent a lot of time in New Mexico. What are your first impressions of Las Cruces and southern New Mexico?

Cantú: The first time I was in this city, on Jan. 10, I came to realize and understand what a charming city it is. I enjoy the fact there is a wonderful university here and a military presence nearby.

Question: What are some of your immediate goals upon becoming bishop?

Cantú: My first goal is to get to know the priests of this diocese because they are the first collaborators in the community. In my first meetings with the priests, I found them very welcoming, very excited to find out who I am. Then in the next few months I want to get to know all of the parishes in the diocese.

Question: What changes are you considering once you become bishop?

Cantú: I'm not sure I want to bring changes if they're not necessary. There's no reason for making change for changes' sake.

Question: Your thoughts and feelings about Bishop Ricardo Ramírez. How much do you know about him?

Cantú: I admire Bishop (Ricardo) Ramirez greatly. I've known of him since I was in high school, in Houston. His name has been on my radar for a very long time. You have to admire him and what he's done, building this diocese up from scratch.

Question: What do you believe are the challenges facing the Las Cruces diocese?

Cantú: It concerns me we're so spread out. I've (also) asked the priests how do they live a priestly fraternity. That's not an easy answer and I want to explore that. We need (as a diocese and a church) to find new expressions, new energies, new methods for teaching the Gospel. How we package our message to the modern world is a real challenge.

Question: Will you rely on advisers to help you become more familiar with the customs and culture of the diocese?

Cantú: I've already had several meetings with the (Pastoral Center) staff. I've also had several meetings with Bishop Ramirez, and I'll continue to work with those who know the issues, to explore the best areas of our ministry.

Question: It's been said you are a strong advocate for church vocations and education in general? Please share some of those feelings.

Cantú: One of my concerns is the (low) number of priests. We are a sacramental church, and that requires priests and deacons. I've been to Walmart and Sam's Club numerous times and never have I found an aisle that says "Priests." They come from families and communities, and that's to be fostered. My passion for education comes from my own personal story. My dad dropped out of school in the sixth grade, and he realized what kind of dead-end that was. He soon realized how difficult it would be to get ahead without an education. He constantly told us to stay in school and get an education. We saw his rough hands from all of the hard work he had to do to put a roof over our heads, provide us with food and clothes. 'Look how hard I've had to work,' he told us. Education opens opportunities for us, but also opens a different horizon. It helps us understand the world.


Steve Ramirez can be reached at 575-541-5452. Follow him on Twitter @SteveRamirez6

New Pontificate The Rev. Oscar Cantú will be installed Thursday as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces. Cantú, 46, is originally from Houston. He is the son of Ramiro and María de Jesus Cantú, natives of a small town near Monterey, Mexico. Cantú is the fifth of eight children, five boys and three girls. Cantú attended Holy Name Catholic School and St. Thomas High School, in Houston. He earned his bachelor of arts degree from the University of Dallas; his master's degree in divinity and master's in theological studies from the University of St. Thomas; his Licentiate of Sacred Theology (S.T.L) and Doctor of Sacred Theology (S.T.D.) in Dogmatic Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University, in Rome. Cantú was ordained as a priest on May 21, 1994, in Houston. He was appointed Titular Bishop of Dardano and Auxiliary Bishop of San Antonio on April 10, 2008, and was ordained on June 2, 2008.