GREENVILLE—Father Francisco Cruz Velosa has retired from active ministry, but that doesn’t mean the 78-year-old is finished serving God and the Church.
“I still feel I have a need to work, that I’m needed,” Father Cruz said.
On Dec. 1, the first Sunday of Advent, he celebrated the Spanish Mass at St. Mary, which was followed by a reception in the parish hall to celebrate his “retirement”. On Dec. 3, Father Cruz marked the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.
“I’m so happy here,” he said of his home since 2002, when Father Cruz left his native Colombia and joined his two younger sisters in South Carolina.
Father Cruz was ordained a priest in Bogota, Colombia, at age 26. His father died when Father Cruz was a child so he was raised and mentored primarily by his mother.
“My mother, Teresa, and my father were very good Catholics, very devoted people,” Father Cruz said.
Following his ordination, he served as pastor in Pacho and oversaw the construction of a new church.
In 2002, the bishop in Zipaquirá, Colombia, granted permission for Father Cruz to transfer to the Diocese of Charleston, where then-Bishop Robert J. Baker assigned him to St. Mary. Four years later, he moved to Sacred Heart in Gaffney.
His next assignment was at St. Mark in Newberry, St. Boniface in Joanna, and Holy Spirit Mission in Laurens. He celebrated both the Spanish and English Masses at all three churches, even though his command of English was limited.
“I said to myself: I know very little English so how can I be pastor here?” Father Cruz said.
He explained his situation to Spanish-speaking ladies at one of the churches, and they told him “God will provide; God will help you.”
Following his two years in Laurens and Newberry counties, Father Cruz took a sabbatical before returning to St. Mary, where he has served as parochial vicar.
Last summer, Pope Francis invited Father Cruz to Rome after learning of his 50th jubilee from Archbishop José Octavio Ruiz Arenas, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.
Archbishop Arenas and Father Cruz were ordained together in Colombia in 1969, and have been friends since, he said.
“He called me and said ‘come to Rome’,” Father Cruz said. The priest, archbishop and pope concelebrated Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica.
Following his trip to Rome, Father Cruz returned to Colombia to visit family and friends, and his former parishes. He thought of returning permanently “to help my people and my country,” but given his age, he said that opportunity is likely gone.
In its place, Father Cruz has turned to a passage found in Hebrews 7:17, and given to him by Pope Francis in the form of a holy card. It reads: “You are a priest forever to the order of Melchizedek.” He is first mentioned in Genesis as “king and priest of God.”
Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor at St. Mary, said Father Cruz will continue to serve the parish “as he is able” with weekday Mass and pastoral care of the sick.