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José María de Jesús Belaunzarán y Ureña: Pastoral Letter

México: Impr. de Luís Abadiano y Valdés, 1833. Vade, &c. vide si cuncta prospera sint erga fratres tuos. Genesis Cap. 37. vs. 14. José María de Jesús Belaunzarán y Ureña. (Leaflet, 4 p., 21cm x 15cm)

Bridwell Library’s collection of printed Mexican religious ephemera possesses 13 documents written by José María de Jesús Belaunzarán y Ureña, Bishop of Linares (Monterey) from 1831 to 1839 and one of the most influential clergymen of post-Independence Mexico. He was described as “one of the two great figures (along with Portugal of Michocán) who led the clergy against the ideas of the early ‘reformers.’” The selections below highlight the bishop’s unremitting defense of the freedom of the Catholic Church.

Belaunzarán begins his pastoral letter with a verse from the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, in which God tells Joseph to return to his brothers, to “go and see if all things are prosperous” for them. Throughout his letter, Belaunzarán compares himself to the Patriarch Joseph of the Old Testament in that he, too, is preparing to go out to the people of his diocese and minister to their spiritual needs. His letter addresses those parishioners far removed from his Episcopal Palace in Monterey, seat of the Diocese of Linares. Belaunzarán’s diocese covered approximately 54,000 square leagues, encompassing the states of Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, Texas, Tamaulipas, and San Luis Potosí.

It was common for a substantial distance to exist between a bishop and his parishioners throughout colonial Mexico and into the 19th century, as the majority of Mexico’s population remained in the rural villages outside of the major cities. Despite the distance, Belaunzarán expresses his deep and profound love for his parishioners, likening his affection for them to that of a father for his children. He announces his intention to visit and finally speak with them face to face, “no longer through letters and scriptures.” He further promises to come “with the sickle like another Jeremiah to cut down vices, uproot abuses, destroy errors that may have penetrated the land and house of the Lord; planting at the same time and immediately in this most holy field of the Holy Church, the beautiful and fecund seeds of Christian virtues.”