READY TO GO OUT Father Javier Gonzalez-Cabrera recently earned his doctorate in missiology at the Pontificia Urbaniana University in Rome and is excited to return to ministry in the Diocese, all with the goal of encouraging everyone he encounters to be an active missionary disciple that helps bring about Church renewal.
By Anneliese Esparza
Going from playing street basketball with local youth (some of whom belonged to gangs) to earning a PhD at the Pontificia Urbaniana University in Rome is just how diocesan priest Father Javier Gonzalez-Cabrera operates. Fr. Gonzalez-Cabrera completed his doctoral thesis on bringing about ecclesial renewal by returning to the basic constants of the faith in late 2021, and he is excited to use this central idea as he begins his new ministries as the Director of Pastoral Formation at Serra House and Parochial Vicar at St. Adelaide, Highland.
Fr. Gonzalez-Cabrera’s degree was in missiology (the study of missions), and not only missions in the sense of evangelizing people from other countries who haven’t heard the Gospel. “Biblically speaking, for us to be active missionary disciples means a lifestyle of always proclaiming and being a living witness of God,” said Fr. Gonzalez-Cabrera. Everyone is called to be an active missionary disciple, he says.
Fr. Gonzalez-Cabrera’s thesis argued in order to experience ecclesial renewal, the people of God must return to the following seven “constants” of the faith: Christian love, the permanent and intimate relationship between God and the believers, Christian fraternity, Christian service, discipleship, ongoing Christian formation, and the Kingdom of God. Practically, this can be done through a renewed emphasis on basic aspects of the faith such as prayer, service to one another and the Sacraments, he says.
“Looking at these things, we can say, ‘It’s so obvious.’ But we can ask the question, how often do we actually come to embrace this?” said Fr. Gonzalez-Cabrera.
Fr. Gonzalez-Cabrera has been serving in various ministries since his Ordination in 2008. He first was assigned as a hospital chaplain and a parish priest at St. George, Ontario, before serving as the Associate Director of Vocations for six years. Throughout this time he also did his more informal ministry of engaging with street youth through sports. Rather than preaching at them, he evangelized by example and presence, leading many of these youth back to the faith.
But he felt a call to pursue his doctorate, to grow in knowledge to better serve the faithful of the Diocese. “I truly believe that this was the will of God for me to go [to Rome],” he said, explaining that he felt that it would help him to be a better shepherd for the people.
Studying at an academically challenging university in a foreign country (with classes in Italian) during a pandemic was no easy task. Fr. Gonzalez-Cabrera attributed his ability to overcome these hurdles to “the grace of God.” Despite the difficulties, Fr. Gonzalez-Cabrera said that he found the opportunity to live in Rome studying and learning in a community with the other students very enjoyable.
Just over four years after he left for Rome, Fr. Gonzalez-Cabrera is back to ministry in the Diocese, and he is ready to hit the ground running. “I see it as a beautiful blessing to be here in this community, concretely in the ordinary lives of people,” he said.
He has already been inspired by one of his parishioners at St. Adelaide, Highland, a woman who makes rosaries. “This woman came to me and she told me, ‘Father, I don’t have many gifts, I don’t have education, but my gift is to make rosaries.’ And the challenge and the blessing for me is to realize, ‘Wow, if she, who is so simple, who never went to school, is giving this, what about me?”
Working with the seminarians at Serra House of Formation as Director of Pastoral Formation, Fr. Gonzalez-Cabrera plans to lead the young men to prioritize prayer and to be intentional and Christ-like in their love of neighbor to give them a good foundation for their journey to the priesthood.
Fr. Gonzalez-Cabrera gave the example of a seminarian who was approached by a family seeking the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick for a sick family member. While of course he could not give the Sacrament himself, he remained with the family to pray with them and accompany them rather than just calling a priest and leaving. A seminarian who acts in such a way becomes a priest who truly loves and cares for his people, said Fr. Gonzalez-Cabrera.
In both his ministry at St. Adelaide and with the seminarians, Fr. Gonzalez-Cabrera recognizes that often actions speak louder than words. “Words are powerful, but often, a living witness is much more powerful. And that’s why it’s a blessing but also a challenge for me,” he said.
As he brings what he learned in Rome to the Diocese of San Bernardino, Fr. Gonzalez-Cabrera wants to emphasize one thing: everyone – himself, his parishioners, seminarians, everyone in our Diocese and even in the whole world – is called to be an active missionary disciple, and everyone is an important part of bringing about renewal in the Church.