San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

From mountains to coast to capital for Costa Rica’s new archbishop

A circuitous route has taken José Rafael Quirós to the post he begins this week as San José’s archbishop.

A native of relatively lofty – lofty for Costa Rica, that is – Llano Grande, near Cartago in the far eastern Central Valley, Quirós entered a seminary secondary school at age 13 and was ordained as a priest in 1981. For the past seven-plus years, he has served as bishop for the diocese headquartered in the Caribbean port of Limón. Quirós, 58, takes the reins of the Catholic Church in Costa Rica on Aug. 29.

The new archbishop embraces the well-known church stands on social issues. At a time when the status of same-sex unions and in vitro fertilization remains in flux in Costa Rica, Quirós stands firm against both, also acknowledging that the church’s positions are not always popular.

“When Jesus calls, it’s a radical path to take,” he says.

Quirós replaces Hugo Barrantes, who served as the capital’s archbishop since 2002. As all bishops must do according to canonic law, Barrantes tendered his resignation when he turned 75 in 2011. The Vatican accepted the resignation in July.

The Archdiocese of San José takes in a large swath of the metro area, watching over 110 parishes in a region running north to Heredia, south to Acosta, east to Tres Ríos, and far west to Puriscal. It also oversees certain matters of governance in the country’s seven smaller dioceses (Alajuela, Cartago, Ciudad Quesada, Limón, Puntarenas, San Isidro de El General and Tilarán-Liberia), called suffragan dioceses in church parlance.

The appointment represents a wholesale change from the post in Limón, which oversees 15 Catholic churches in a sparsely populated, largely Afro-Caribbean Protestant region of the country.

Listening to classical music and exercising occupy Quirós’ spare time outside work, but he emphasized, “When there is time,” adding that time has been a scarce commodity these days during preparation for his move.

The veteran prelate did take time earlier this month during a visit to the capital to speak with The Tico Times at the Church of Guadalupe in the northeastern San José suburb of the same name. He discussed the health of Catholicism and the direct and indirect roles it plays in Costa Rican society, as well as expectations for the church in the era of Pope Francis, Argentina’s Jorge Bergoglio, the first Latin American pontiff.

Excerpts follow:

TT: How do you gauge the health of the Catholic Church in Costa Rica as you assume your new post?

JRQ: We’re going through an interesting time with new evangelization; that is to say, applying the message of the gospel to current times. But it’s also a difficult time when we encounter a current of secularism that goes against the teachings of the church.

What is the biggest challenge confronting the church?

Archbishop José Rafael Quirós 2

Archbishop Quirós: “In the history of this country, the church has always supported the common good without trying to impose its will.”

Alberto Font

Communicating that the message of the gospel is always current, always attractive. Above all, it will always respond to the most basic human aspirations, those of liberty, justice, peace and democracy.

Costa Rica has complete freedom of religion but it also has a state church, the Catholic Church. What should be the role of a country’s state church?

You’re describing what’s stated in the constitution with respect to the heritage of the Catholic faith. However, in no way does the church confuse its mission with that of the state. In the history of this country, the church has always supported the common good without trying to impose its will, but we do express our disagreement with matters that contradict the church. And Catholic lay people are involved in the government, and they are influenced by their beliefs and their faith.

In United States, the term “cafeteria Catholic” is frequently used to describe those Catholics who pick and choose which church teachings they will obey and which they will ignore. Can someone be a good Catholic and at the same time be divorced, or use contraception, or be gay?

There are Catholic people in this country who’ve let themselves be influenced by a relativism that leads them to make decisions based on what makes them comfortable and not what God wants.

Divorce should always be a last option, never the first. A divorced person can continue to live separated [from their spouse] but within the church as long as they remain faithful to the sacrament of marriage.

For the person with homosexual tendencies, that’s a matter entirely in and of themselves. But that’s separate from acting on those tendencies. They are called to live in abstinence, and they can live within the church.

What does it mean for Costa Rica to have a pope come from this part of the world?

As Latin Americans, we are greatly honored and very happy. But it’s not recognition for Latin America so much as it is a gift from God.

Everyone seems to agree that Pope Francis represents something “new” for the church. How would you describe the phenomenon?

He’s the first Latin American pope, of course. But it’s his gestures, his words, his way of communicating with people. The message of the gospel is always new, but sometimes that gets lost in complex language. Pope Francis has the resources to bring the message of the church nearer. He’s carrying the same form and style to the papacy that he brought to [his tenure as archbishop in] Buenos Aires.

Has the presence of a new pope generated more interest in the church?

Yes, from many sectors. His style and his ease of access have brought attention from Catholics and non-Catholics alike. I think Catholics who have drifted away have seen in the pope’s style a call to return to the church.

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