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 Bishop Gerald Barnes offered this blunt assertion during a nearly hourlong keynote address at the Combined Vicariate meeting for the parishes of the Riverside Pastoral Region on Feb. 13. It underscored a broader theme of the Bishop’s talk—the need for our faith communities to deepen their commitment to unity.

 He set the tone this theme by offering some details from his January 27 meeting with Pope Francis during the Ad Limina. The Holy Father expressed concerns about division and polarization in the Church and urged the bishops of Region XI to speak with one voice. Upon greeting Bishop Barnes, Pope Francis said “se oye mucho de San Bernardino” (“you hear a lot about San Bernardino”), Bishop Barnes related. “I did not ask him if that was good or bad,” the Bishop added with a laugh.

 Bishop Barnes praised the parishes of the Diocese for their living out of the core values of hospitality, faith sharing, reconciliation and collaboration. At the same time, he encouraged the attendees to see the broader context of their ministry and ask “how is it all tied together?”

 “We’re doing very well. We continue to grow in our understanding of the faith,” Bishop Barnes said. “We realize that we can’t stay where we’re at. We have to find new ways to preach the Gospel.”

 The Combined Vicariate Meetings are held annually at the Diocesan Pastoral Center as a gathering for parish leadership and staffs to reacquaint themselves with diocesan ministries, hear a talk from Bishop Barnes and reflect on a chosen theme for the year (“On Our Journey” was this year’s theme. In recent years, the meetings have been lengthened to include breakout sessions on ministry topics of interest. This year the breakout sessions covered were, “Journey into an Election Year with Civility in Faithful Citizenship,” “Dynamics of Working Together as the Body of Christ,” and “Journey Beyond Waiting: Transitioning in life.” A breakout session was also offered to update attendees on the previous year’s topics.

 For the first time, an evening session of the Combined Vicariate meeting was offered to members of parish pastoral councils. The Feb. 18 meeting drew strong attendance, packing the banquet rooms at the Pastoral Center.

 This year’s Combined Vicariate meetings were also the first for Coadjutor Bishop Alberto Rojas, who took the opportunity to greet parish employees, listen to presentations and offer a meditative closing prayer.