Bishop who dedicated 28 years to diocese prepares to pass role to next leader

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Bishop Gerald Barnes speaks affectionately of the culturally diverse communities of which he's been a part for 28 years. He calls this California diocese, the fifth-largest in the United States, a “crossroads” of people. 

Bishop of San Bernardino, Calif.
“It has its identity, and I think I've been part of that, that growth and that identity, of kind of unifying these towns together. I may be from Colton, or I may be from Grand Terrace, or Phelan or Wrightwood, but I belong to the Diocese of San Bernardino. So it's kind of like the diocese is what unites all of us.”

Bishop Barnes says despite this shared identity, there is still the challenge of overcoming the fear dividing immigrants and many U.S. citizens. He says the Church plays an important role in accompanying and advocating for these people.

Bishop of San Bernardino, Calif.
“It's especially hard for some of the young people, whose parents may be undocumented, but they are citizens, or who came to our country as infants or as small children. Sometimes all you can do is just cry with them. That's all you can do. You can't change the law.”

After Pope Francis officially accepts Bishop Barnes' resignation, following the latter's 75th birthday later this year, Alberto Rojas, who has been an auxiliary bishop in Chicago since 2011, will take over. 

An immigrant himself, Bishop Rojas says he feels empathy and compassion for this often-marginalized population. He also says he looks forward to working with the youth in particular, who, he feels, are often excluded from ministry.

Coadjutor Bishop of San Bernardino, Calif.
“Everybody says they are a priority. So I began to ask the question, 'If they are a priority, why are they not present?' In our things, you know, in everything that we do. Some of the things I say to them when I have the opportunity is to make them realize that they're not the future of the Church, but they're the present.”

Bishop Rojas is keenly aware of the Church's need to actively reach out to young people. He says inexperience should not be a reason to keep them from contributing to society.

Coadjutor Bishop of San Bernardino, Calif.
“I hope that's something we, from now on, remember, that we trust them, that they can do the jobs or the ministries, no matter how prepared they might be. We need to make them feel that we care, and we do, but sometimes we don't show it. I think they would believe that when they see it happening, that we reach out to them, that we get them involved.”

Bishop Rojas says he is grateful to have Bishop Barnes as a mentor these coming months while he adjusts to his new diocese. Bishop Barnes says he hopes to serve as a prison chaplain following his resignation, but he says good-humoredly that he will help with whatever the new bishop needs.

Claudia Torres

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