We’ll soon receive a Coadjutor Bishop, who will spend the year getting to know our Diocese and working with me before he becomes the Ordinary Bishop when I retire. He will be the third Bishop of the Diocese, following our founding Bishop, Phillip Straling, and myself. At that moment I will leave behind my Episcopal ministry of the past 28 years, 24 as your Bishop.
Words cannot nearly express the gratitude I feel to God for the time I have spent here, working along side you, furthering God’s Kingdom together, sharing all the joys and sorrows of living the Catholic faith in our time. We have come far in our journey together, growing to more than 1.7 million people who claim the Catholic faith in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, across six vicariates; a brimming and diverse community offering commitment and so many gifts. This year we can take stock of all that has transpired, mountains we have climbed, bridges we have crossed, dreams yet to be realized.
Given the leadership structure of our Church, the transition from one bishop to another is a change of monumental proportion. Let us not minimize that fact. My successor, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, will be free to lead the Diocese of San Bernardino as he sees fit. He will have his own style and his own priorities. We will come to know him and support him fully in his Episcopacy, just as you have supported me.
Changes in our lives, personally, and as a community, are not easy. So, as we begin this final year, we are wise to allow ourselves all of the emotions that come with major change; fear, sadness, loss, anger, satisfaction, gratitude and new hope. As we meet in our diocesan, parish and school settings, let us not hold these feelings inside. Be free to express them, in dialogue with each other and, of course, in prayer. This, too, is part of our journey together.
In processing feelings of fear and uncertainty we can look to many moments in Scripture when God’s people encountered big change. The Exodus of the Israelites is one. Some were so fearful of the uncertain journey ahead that they would rather remain in slavery. The Apostles, even after meeting the Risen Lord, were huddled and fearful of the calling of Jesus to carry on His ministry of evangelization on earth. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost changed all that. God is calling us forward. He already awaits us to where we are going. He also accompanies us on the journey to where He has pitched His tent.
We must trust in God’s loving plan for us, just as the Israelites and the Apostles and so many others ultimately did. This faith in God’s providence is the key for us. Yes, we do not know what lies ahead. Yes, we have hopes that the ministries to which we have devoted so much time and energy over the years will continue on; adult faith formation and education, restorative justice, multicultural ministry, marriage and family life, child and youth protection, pastoral care to the sick and dying, vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, consecrated life and lay ecclesial ministry – the list is long. We give thanks for our progress in these areas and many others. We have been marked with core values that help us at this time: hospitality, faith sharing, reconciliation and collaboration. Regardless of what the future holds, the good work in these ministries and the good that has come to us all through God’s grace cannot be undone.
At the same time, our faith teaches us to be attentive to the present moment and what lies ahead (“Siempre Adelante”). We are a people constantly called to renewal and rebirth. In this way, change, however painful, leads to growth. One step closer to the Kingdom.
So, we go forward into this year of change—Episcopal Transition. I ask for your prayers as I prepare to enter a new chapter in my ministry, and your prayers for your next Bishop, whom God will choose to lead the Diocese of San Bernardino according to His will and His purpose. I have appointed an Episcopal Transition Committee of diocesan and parish leaders that will provide periodic information on this process to the faithful.
Let us ask for the intercession of our Diocesan patrons, St. Bernardine of Siena and Our Lady of Guadalupe. Let us pull ever closer to our God who accompanies us as we meet the unknown. Let us trust in His love for us and walk the path that He lays out for us in Mission:
We, the Church of San Bernardino,
Are a community of believers in Jesus the Christ,
Called to impact family, neighborhood and society with the Gospel
So that people’s lives are filled with hope