Father Roy Snipes, who for more than 25 years has served as the spiritual leader of his congregation, has transcended his role over time, and is now much more to the surrounding communities, his parishioners and the people of the Rio Grande Valley.

The influence of the man affectionately referred to as the Cowboy Priest — a moniker of sorts earned for his charming, old-world persona — has extended outside the confines of his Mission congregation at Our Lady of Guadalupe and impacted the region; reaching the masses in national media reports and cementing his inclusion as a nominee for the 2018 Rio Grande Valley Citizen of the Year.

The always-smiling, cowboy-hat-wearing, beer-drinking priest has for half a century stressed that relationships with people, the earth and God be as natural as they are intimate. In addition to spirited sermons, his contributions to Sunday Mass, which attracts hundreds of parishioners, also include appearances by his beloved pack of dogs along with his favorite music: country.

And he walks the walk.

In 1992, Snipes secured a couple acres adjacent to La Lomita Chapel, the mother church to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Snipes has held summer camps there, just yards away from the Rio Grande, for members of his parish as a way to reconnect with the environment and the land he believes God gave them dominion over, and more importantly to unplug from the world.

“We need to spend more time at the river, we need to get away from the computers, and get out of the institutionalized mediocrity, the sterility, the whatever that is, frigidity of the institution, rigidity of the institution,” Snipes said in October 2017.

The Cowboy Priest has stood up for these values, making his opposition of President Donald Trump’s border barrier known, and sympathizing with the plight of the immigrants.

Snipes has led processions to La Lomita Chapel in opposition of the barrier’s construction, which many fear would disturb or even cut off the property surrounding the historic edifice from the public. He’s also participated in and supported events such as Reclaim the River at the National Butterfly Center; his voice considered a voice of reason and a fixture at such events.

The Catholic Diocese of Brownsville only recently joined in opposition of the government, more specifically of a federally filed Declaration of Taking to use eminent domain to take the chapel and property south of the Juan Diego Academy in Mission. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate has since lent its support to the diocese.

For Snipes, the idea of a barrier separating people from its natural resources is sacrilegious, and spoke of as much in a 2018 Monitor video production.

“This is crazy that they would build a wall on a sacred river, but whatever happens we’re not going to let them make us mean. The river itself is kind of a source for whimsy and romance, and playfulness and joy, and poetry and adventure, and to put that in a tomb is sacrilegious,” Snipes said. “I hope they’re not going to build a wall. The river gives life in many ways — spiritually, physically, biologically. But it also gives us life poetically, sociologically … psychologically and spiritually.”

Such grace and leadership, transcending what it means to be a priest in a border community amid adversity, and standing up for his principles even in opposition of a governing authority, earned Father Roy Snipes this nomination.

Father Roy Snipes was nominated by The Monitor Editorial Board.

By Ramón Ramirez