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Fr. Joe Elizi, CM – Quiet Holiness, Empowering Laity

The most frequent words used in the days before Fr. Elzi’s burial were “quiet holy man” “beloved by young and old”.  In his nearly 70 years as a priest, this quiet man was also in the forefront of empowering the laity as called for by Vatican II and Paul VI.

Fr. Alcibiades, CM, traveled from Panama to represent the priests and people he served with and for almost 40 years.  He was inspired by him as a young person Panama and shared his recollections. The laity, especially, remember him as all of the above. But also, as the one who empowered the laity in ministry during his year years. He took seriously the call of Vatican II and Pope Paul VI. He was not always supported in fostering these developments.

The same was said by the 20 people of Charlotte, North Carolina where he ministered for 19 years. They traveled by bus some 12 hours during the night to acknowledge his impact on their lives. Immediately after the services they had to begin the long drive home. But not before many of them said in Spanish many of the same things.  He inspired them with his quiet holiness and trust in involving them in ministry thereby changing their lives.

Long before it drew much attention in the Vincentian Family, Fr. Elzi was a quiet agent of lay collaboration and systemic change. He changed people’s lives and anticipated Pop Francis’ call to all to be missionary disciples.

He was a living example of what is being written about St. Vincent whose enormous activities were undergirded by deep contemplation of Jesus Christ the Evangelized of the Poor He also illustrated a saying Vincent was fond of… “good makes no noise”.

The obituary in the Charlotte newspaper says,

A native of Jackson, Mich., he attended the Vincentian-run Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish while growing up and was inspired to join the Vincentians when he was 20 years old. He spent 45 years as a missionary in Panama before returning stateside to serve in Long Island, N.Y., followed by a year at St. Mary Church in Greensboro.

In 1998, he was assigned to what was then called the Hispanic Catholic Center in Charlotte, where he began serving the growing number of Latino Catholics in the area. As parochial vicar of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, serving alongside longtime pastor Vincentian Father Vincent Finnerty, Father Elzi helped lead its growth into what is today one of the Diocese of Charlotte’s largest parishes. Thanks to his pastoral work and the ministry of many others, the Hispanic community in the diocese grew to encompass an increased number of Spanish-language Masses, adult and youth evangelization programs, Cursillo, and a broad group of experienced religious and lay leaders who developed diocesan Hispanic Ministry into what it is today.

 I can’t help thinking about how much he embodied recent church celebrations.

Mission Sunday – His life reminded us of the universal call to be missionary disciples who attract others to be disciples.

The Feast of All Saints – If there was ever anyone who fit Pope Francis’ description of the ordinary saints who live next door it was Fr. Elzi.

Vocation Awareness Sunday – He certainly attracted people to think about their own call to serve in their own unique way.

We have much to be thankful for. And we recognize the invitation implicit in his life to do the same.

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