NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- The Rev. Virgilio Elizondo, who strives to connect religion and people, was recognized as one of the leading spiritual innovators in the United States by Time magazine.
Recalling his life when he was young, he said, “I grew up believing we were all religious, but not enemies.”
“There is nothing uglier than religious hatred and wars," he noted. "Instead of looking at our opposing differences, we have to find new ways of combining differences so each one can enrich and complement the other.""
Currently Elizondo is teaching at Notre Dame, where he is a theology professor and associate director of the Institute for Latino Studies. Ever since he was in Texas, he has spent most of his life trying to break down differences through faith.
Not only he introduces theology, he serves as a parish priest and puts faith into action by visiting the sick and the elderly.
"I came from a neighborhood where no one thought I would make it out or amount to anything," he remarked. "Even as a boy, I knew I wanted to do something good for the world."
Elizondo explained that Latinos consider life as a pilgrimage marked by both suffering and celebration.
"There's the notion that life is suffering," said Elizondo, "Not that you go looking for it, but that suffering is an element of life. You're going to have disappointments and failures but you don't let that destroy you. You rise above it and you celebrate. Life is a gift."
Time magazine recognized his work for developing theology that speaks to the faith of mestizos -- people who come from blended backgrounds, such as Mexican-Americans, and who are often neglected and isolated.
Elizondo believes that Jesus Christ, who also came from a similar marginalized background in Israel, showed how hope could arise from rejection.
Many other scholars openly complemented Elizondo’s faith and commitment to Christ.
"Virgilio is the most well-known Hispanic theologian in the United States," says Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, associate director of the Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C. "He has been very involved in promoting a pastoral approach to ministry that is respectful of people's cultures."
"He never loses the common touch, even though he's called to speak at Harvard and the Vatican," says Timothy Matovina, a Notre Dame theology professor who directs its Center for the Study of American Catholicism.
"He has a tremendous international reputation," says Gilberto Cardenas, director of Notre Dame's Institute for Latino Studies. "He inspires people when he talks about faith. He talks about blending the Latino people into the larger culture and creating better relations in the public world as well."
Elizondo, a multilingual, who speaks seven languages, has also written 12 books Elizondo's latest book is called "A God of Incredible Surprises."