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SAN BERNARDINO—With the COVID-19 virus spiking and the percentage of fully vaccinated people in San Bernardino and Riverside counties lagging well behind the state average, the Diocese continues its public campaign to encourage the faithful to receive the vaccine as a means to serve the common good and protect the health and life of all.

Thus, Bishop Alberto Rojas joined with seven other bishops in California in declaring that his diocese will not grant exemption letters or forms for those who object to receiving the vaccine on religious grounds.

“As a Church we are doing everything we can to communicate the need for all brothers and sisters to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as a means of protecting the health of families, communities and society. Pope Francis says that receiving the vaccines that are morally acceptable is an act of charity,” Bishop Rojas said.

“While we support the right of every Catholic to consult their conscience on the matter of the vaccine, we will not issue letters of exemption in the Diocese of San Bernardino for those who object to the vaccine on religious grounds. COVID-19 continues to pose a grave threat to our communities, and we must seek the common good on our path to recovery and good health,” Bishop Rojas added.

At the same time, Bishop Rojas and other diocesan leaders have emphasized the need for the local Church to walk with those who, having examined their conscience, elect not to be vaccinated. Father Erik Esparza, JCL, Director of the Office of Priest Personnel for the Diocese, addressed the matter in a letter to priests informing them of Bishop Rojas’s decision.

“I urge the clergy of this diocese to accompany the members of our Church most affected by this decision,” Fr. Esparza wrote. “Over the course of 2,000 years, the Catholic Church has developed a significant body of teaching on human rights, conscience protection, the relationship between Church and state, and religious freedom (usccb.org/committees/religious-liberty/church-teaching-religious-freedom). The depth and wealth of our Church’s teaching invites all Catholics to dive deeper into the richness and meaning of our beliefs that lead us to respond to specific pastoral realities of our time in truth and solidarity avoiding opinion or society’s temptation of indifference.”

Meanwhile, the Diocese is preparing to launch another Public Service Announcement (PSA) urging the faithful to be vaccinated. The video message, to be run on local radio and television in English and Spanish, features five priests from different parts of the Diocese: Father Manuel Cardoza (Our Lady of Hope, San Bernardino), Father Canice Nwizu (Christ the Good Shepherd, Adelanto), Father Anthony Dao (St. Catherine of Alexandria, Temecula), Father Al Utzig (St. Mary, Fontana) and Father Dennis Legaspi (St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Beaumont/Banning).

“The vaccine is safe, easy to get, and it will protect you from serious illness and death,” Fr. Utzig says. “Do it for yourself, your family and especially those in the community who are most at risk.”