He led north Fort Worth in prayer for two decades, but this time the Rev. Stephen Jasso needs our prayers.
Only five months after he retired as leader of All Saints Parish on the historic north side, the Franciscan priest and brave champion for the city’s poor and powerless has been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
His career has taken him from village missions on mountaintops in Peru to Washington and a meeting with President George W. Bush.
Now, at 85, Jasso faces death with the same courage and steely resolve he showed in leading his church and the Latino and immigrant communities in Texas and Fort Worth.
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“I think my ending will be very strong,” he told a teary-eyed City Council chamber last week, speaking from a motorized wheelchair as Mayor Betsy Price gave him a soft kiss on the cheek and a proclamation declaring “Father Jasso Day.”
“I know where ALS leads me,” he said. ALS is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the progressive neuron disease better known as Lou Gehrig’s.
“I’m here to serve — I’m here to love,” he said: “I’m here to carry my cross all the way to the end of the road.”
Days later, Jasso welcomed guests at the parish, where he once unlocked the church doors at 6 a.m. nearly every day. He remains as a vicar.
“I never had any idea what ALS was,” he said.
He began feeling weak in February, he said. The ALS was diagnosed June 29.
Already, he has lost use of muscles on his left side and left arm. (He’s left-handed.)
“I am not strong here or here,” he said, pointing to his arms and legs. But his heart is “stronger,” he said: “And my love for God and for people is stronger than ever.”
He still receives parishioners daily for counseling, confession and to write references to help immigrants or their family members come as legal permanent residents.
After 53 years as a priest, first in Peru and Mexico City, Jasso said he can no longer celebrate Mass “because I can’t stand up.”
“But I would love to celebrate one Mass every Sunday from my wheelchair,” he said.
Jasso, born in Waco as one of 15 children in a family of migrant San Luis Potosi farm workers, came to Fort Worth in 1985 at the peak of a crime wave of deadly teenage gang shootouts.
The Star-Telegram pictured him playing 8-ball with north side teens at the Boys & Girls Club next to the church.
Jasso struck up a fast alliance with then-Mayor Kay Granger, police Chief Thomas Windham and public school superintendents to calm violence and promote peace and education on the north side.
More recently, Jasso helped organize an interfaith advisory cabinet for Price.
The proclamation for “Father Jasso Day” praised his “humble service and active community involvement.”
“His heart is with Christ, the church and people,” said Bishop Michael Olson of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.
Olson said Jasso is serving in the Franciscan tradition: “Even in his suffering, he wants to give of himself to Christ and the people of his church. It shows a generosity of spirit.”
When I visited Jasso, he talked again about carrying a cross, a biblical reference to suffering and Christ’s crucifixion.
“I’m carrying the cross because I feel — this illness — for some reason, God has permitted it,” he said.
“I will carry it as the Lord carried his cross for me,” he said. Suffering “is part of everyday living,” he said.
He lost his father, Domingo, in 2006 at age 103.
“I was hoping — ” Jasso said.
He didn’t finish the sentence.
Then he changed the subject.
“This has become a new challenge,” he said: “I am asking people to pray with me all the way until the end.”
One night earlier, I went to an anniversary reception at Joe T. Garcia’s for a high school classmate’s brother and his wife.
Tom Fruge, 59, grew up in a General Dynamics family in the Burton Hill neighborhood. He married a high school sweetheart, Nancy, and went on to become head of Goldman Sachs Private Lending in New York.
Now, he has retired and the Fruges have come home.
He also has ALS.
So far, he has raised $5,000 in pledges for the Fort Worth Walk to Defeat ALS Oct. 27 in Trinity Park.
“I would love to meet with him,” Jasso said. “I want us to pray and ask the Lord to find a solution.”
Jasso said he wants to leave Fort Worth and America with the message to “support family life and values.”
“If we lose the values of this country, we become nothing,” he said.
He wants Fort Worth to be “a loving city with loving persons — people who care for others.”
“ … Tell the people I love them,” he said — “all of them. Poor, rich, humble and arrogant — even the arrogant I love, because they have a lot to learn.”
Now is the time to love Father Jasso.