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UNIQUE MINISTRY Arnel Recio (pictured bottom left), a parishioner and former youth minister of St. Mary, Fontana, started “This Connected Podcast” in 2019 as a way for people of different faiths, colors and ages to “break bread” over the mic and share their stories. In the larger photo is Recio (right) and Tony Pimentel (left), a once frequent guest of the podcast who is now its producer and cohost.

By Ryan Coleman

When did Arnel Recio, the creator and host of “This Connected Podcast,” realize that his casual social experiment had turned into something serious? “I have to be honest with you,” Recio said in a tone that would be instantly familiar to listeners of the podcast—both playful and sincere, direct yet open to meandering tangents and trail-offs.

“I’ve never taken the podcast really seriously. But as long as the Holy Spirit continues to call us to do it, we will continue to do it.”

Anyone who knows or has even briefly come into contact with Arnel Recio can tell you that this can’t be entirely true. The 54-year-old father of two is a deeply thoughtful and intentional man, no matter how jocular and easygoing he may come across. It is actually the simultaneous approachability of his nature and the rigor with which he conducts uncomfortable conversations and explores hot-button issues which has made “This Connected Podcast” so popular, not just with members of the Diocese of San Bernardino, but with Catholics across the country and around the world.

“As a wife, as a mother, a daughter, a woman, a Hispanic, there’s always something I can relate to in each episode,” said Elena Salgado, a longtime listener of the podcast and a parishioner of St. Oscar Romero, Eastvale. Salgado says that she listens to a whole host of other Catholic podcasts, including “Restore the Glory,” “Abiding Together,” and “Being Human,” but something sets Recio’s show apart from the pack.

“This is a different type of podcast,” Salgado said, “because it’s all about the people. It’s relatable. These normal everyday people sharing their life stories. Some things are hard, and I will think, ‘Wow, that person really suffered,’ but I can relate to it.”

Recio has been recording and releasing episodes of the podcast roughly every week for the last four years. In each episode, he sits down with a different person, usually Catholic, usually a parishioner of a church in the Diocese, and almost always a regular, working person, for an expansive conversation about life, faith, love and loss.

“We’ve tried inviting big name people on the podcast, but when we do, nobody really listens to it,” Recio said, noting the dominant strategy of other faith-based podcasts to try to book as many household names as possible. “But people don’t want to hear that. We live in the Inland Empire, our listeners live in the Inland Empire. We’re desert people, and we want to hear the stories of people like us, living our lives out here,” he said.

He recorded the first episode of what would become “This Connected Podcast” in 2019, shortly after departing from his role as a youth minister at his home church of St. Mary in Fontana. “I stepped away from youth ministry in 2019, and apprehensively, because I really didn’t want to stop,” recalled Recio. He says that the youth leaders he once mentored as teens and even preteens “had all grown up, were graduating college, starting families of their own, and really on fire, taking over ministries of their own.”

There is some truth to Recio saying he never took the podcast seriously: it really did start out as a joke. When he told some of the boys in Esto Vir, a young men’s youth group at St. Mary, that he would officially be stepping down as the youth minister, they told him he should start a podcast. “I was like, ‘What’s a podcast?’ I had never listened to a podcast. They said, ‘You know, you just talk, and you’re always talking,’ and I thought well, that’s true,” he said.

Recio thought he’d keep the joke going with the boys at the next middle school youth group night. He approached Esto Vir and said, “’We’re gonna do a podcast.’ That became our first episode,” Recio recalled. “I recorded it on my cellphone with lavalier mics clipped to the end of chopsticks, right in the middle of the plaza.”

“Initially it was more youth-oriented,” explained Tony Pimentel, a once frequent guest of the podcast who became its producer and cohost during the pandemic. Pimentel is the Youth Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Oscar Romero, Eastvale, as well as a content creator in his own right: he regularly produces short, vlogger style videos for his YouTube channel. But when Recio enjoyed Pimentel’s “This Connected” appearances so much he asked him to take on a larger role, Pimentel jumped at the opportunity.

What drives him is the mission of the show, which he describes like this: “There’s still a lot of division in our faith when there shouldn’t be. I think our hope is that we can hear each other out, even if we disagree with one another. We want to show that you can value another person as a human being even if you disagree with everything they say. Trying to prove that you’re right no matter what isn’t a fruit of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “Fruits of the Holy Spirit would be generosity and love.”

Ironically enough, “This Connected Podcast” actually started out titled “Disconnected Podcast.” Recio was preoccupied with the disconnects between people of different faiths, colors and ages. But eventually he realized that the mission of the podcast wasn’t to focus on the disconnections between people, but the opportunities we all have to come together, to “break bread” over the mic.

Longtime listener Karla Osio, who attends St. Oscar Romero, Eastvale, puts it best when she describes what Recio does on “This Connected Podcast” as ministry.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met someone as eager to share his faith as Arnel,” she said. “He will talk to anyone and everyone and listen with an open heart. Listening to the podcast is like attending a ministry you’ve been going to for years. Like old friends.”

You can tune in to the “This Connected Podcast” anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Ryan Coleman is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.