SAN JUAN — As hundreds of Rio Grande Valley residents gathered here inside the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle on Thursday to pay their final respects to Bishop Emeritus Raymundo J. Peña, it became clear that everyone’s impression of him was a matter of universal consensus — Peña was a pillar of faith.

He died at the age of 87 on Friday.

At his funeral Mass on Thursday, the bishop’s casket was escorted into the church by several Knights of Columbus before being joined by 12 bishops and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, blesses the casket of Bishop Emertius Raymundo Pena during a funeral Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle on Thursday in San Juan.
(Joel Martinez | [email protected])

During the Mass, Bishop Daniel E. Flores of the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville delivered a touching homily in English and Spanish filled with memories of the departed bishop.

“Bishop made it very clear to me and to a number of others that when the time came for him to pass from this life — and I’ve said this before — he did not want any eulogies, and I do not intend to give one,” Flores said. “His instructions were ‘preach the gospel.’ But if I were to give a eulogy, which I wouldn’t, I would probably talk about a couple of things in particular.”

He talked about Peña’s tireless work with the church that continued long after his retirement in 2009.

Toward the end of his homily, Flores shared a memory of one of his last visits with Peña.

“The last time I was able to speak to bishop … after a while he couldn’t speak. He was having difficulty speaking,” Flores recalled. “And I said, ‘Bishop, let’s pray a decade of the rosary. Just one,’ I said. So I started the annunciation, and he would do the responses. We got through the decade, and I thought we were done. We weren’t.”

The casket containing the body of Bishop Emeritus Raymundo Peña is moved from the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle after a funeral Mass on Thursday in San Juan.
(Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Flores then said that Peña, “in the strongest voice he could do,” began to sing in a moment of spontaneity.

Mientras recorres la vida, tú nunca solo estás, contigo por el camino, Santa María, va,” Flores suddenly sang, recalling Peña doing the same.

Flores then led the crowd in singing “Santa María del Camino.”

Cardinal DiNardo shared his own memory of Peña at the end of the Mass following the Communion service.

“When I came here 17 years ago as Coadjutor of Galveston-Houston, Bishop Peña was one of the first bishops I met,” DiNardo said. “One of the things that I recall was that for every bishop’s meeting that was happening thereafter – any bishops gathering – Bishop Peña was always there. He was always faithful.”

It was that faithfulness that inspired the bishops to gather in San Juan for the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops on Wednesday so they could attend Peña’s funeral.

“He was always present to us,” Auxiliary Bishop Michael Boulette of San Antonio said after the Mass. “He always had some very important and good things to say. He was a faithful bishop.”

Rev. Eduardo Ortega of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Rio Grande City served as one of the pallbearers. After the singing of “Salve Regina,” a Marian hymn, and the blessing of the casket with holy water, he shared his thoughts on being able to partake in the bishop’s funeral Mass.

“It was a great honor for me to be a pallbearer, and above all to get to know Bishop Peña throughout my priesthood,” Ortega said. “I was ordained when he first arrived to the diocese. He was a great mentor and a good role model for my priesthood.”

The body of Bishop Emeritus Raymundo Pena rests near the altar during a funeral Mass for him at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle on Thursday in San Juan. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Sister Letty Ugboaja said that Peña was a father figure to her ever since he accepted her into the diocese.

“He’s been so close to us in terms of spirituality and guiding all of us,” Ugboaja said. “We are missing somebody who was very close, very loving, very caring to us. I know that he is resting in peace and praying for us always.”

Adrian Aviles of Brownsville was able to catch the tail end of Peña’s funeral. He said the last time he saw the bishop was at a funeral Mass for a fallen soldier in 2020.

“I saw that they were going to make a Mass, but I wasn’t able to come and see it because I had an appointment,” Aviles said. “But then I came and I paid my respects because he was a good bishop. We all enjoyed everything that he did for us. He helped the community, the Valley. Everybody has to leave, but at the same time, you get used to seeing him and now that he’s gone … well, he’s already up there in Heaven with the Lord.”

[email protected]