The following excerpt is from Bishop Gerald Barnes’ address at the Combined Vicariate Meeting of the San Bernardino Pastoral Region on February 15.
The V Encuentro has caused a great deal of concern on the part of some people who are feeling left out. They say, ‘Why is this only with Hispanics?’ ‘Why is that bishop so insistent with the Hispanics?’
We fail to understand that like in any family there are times when you have to give certain attention to certain people in the family. It isn’t that we love one member more than the other.
An aunt of mine died years ago. She was a spinster, she never married. She was a slow learner and very pious. And she was the favorite aunt of the children because she was always with the kids, playing with them and taking care of them. So when she died all the nephews and nieces came, we had a great funeral.
I remember talking to my mother at that time and she was saying “Well, I love all my children the same, its seven children. I love them all the same,” I said “Mom, you don’t.” She looked at me and she said, “You think I love you more just because you’re a priest?” And I said, “no, I don’t think that. Mom I know you love me, I need this much of your love (holding hands about one foot apart) and you’ve given all that to me. But my brother needs this much of your love (holding hands about two feet apart) and you need to give it to him. At this time in his life he needs that much more.”
The Bishops of the country, recognizing the growth of Hispanics in this country, in every single state, are meeting with a number of challenges and not knowing how to minister to this huge group of people that will soon be 50 percent of the Catholic Church in the United States; and are now 74 percent here in this diocese.
The Bishops are concerned that the Hispanic people… are receiving not the kind of welcome that they understand…Nike wants them, Century 21 wants them, Kaiser Permanente wants them. And everybody is making all kinds of efforts to draw these people. Politicians want them. What we don’t want is for these people to feel that the Church doesn’t want them. The majority of bishops in this country do not have that understanding of the Hispanic culture or community. The Bishops are also concerned that the great number of young Catholics of Hispanic ancestry far exceed any other group in this country. Are we going to lose them? And so the bishops want to hear from the Hispanic community. What are you living right now? What are your dreams? What are your fears? How do you see the Church? Is the Church a place for you or not? You may be immigrant, you may be second generation, you may be third generation. You still consider yourself a Hispanic. What is the Church for you?”
The Bishops want this information in order to do their ministry better. And so [they] said we need this Encuentro. We need to hear the Hispanic people, not because we love them more than the others, but right now we need to know how we can do our ministry better. And so that’s why it’s taking place, it’s not to put others aside.
Now, where do others that are not Hispanic fit in? There are opportunities within the process for us to listen to others and how they see Hispanics in the Church today. But the focus is Hispanics because the bishops are looking for that information. And so I have to say that because I feel that sometimes some of us are reacting as if it’s a rejection or a putting aside of other groups. That’s not where it is at this time. [As another example]The Holy Father is calling for this new Synod on youth; the focus is youth and will be youth. It’s not putting aside senior [citizens] it’s not putting aside small children. They want to hear about the youth. And so we hope that those of you that are struggling with this can at least be able to understand, even though you may not agree with what the bishops are calling for in this V Encuentro.
The other issue is that, since the Hispanic population has become so numerous in this country among Catholics, it will be the responsibility for this group of people to take leadership in the Church and in our country. For years the hierarchy of the Church was ministered by people of Irish and German and Italian descent. That’s who our Bishops were, that’s who our religious communities were, that’s who it was. That’s who built our schools. Well, that group has diminished and it’s going to be time for the Hispanics to take leadership for the whole church not just for their community.
And how are we preparing them to do that? That’s the other side of this V Encuentro. So where is hospitality there? Where is faith sharing there? Where is reconciliation there? Even among the Hispanics it’s not one monolithic group. There are so many differences as you know, even among people of the same group. And among them reconciliation is also needed.