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Bishop Gerald Barnes and Bishop Alberto Rojas receive Pfizer vaccine at St. Mary Regional Medical Center in the High Desert

APPLE VALLEY—In the High Desert area of the Diocese of San Bernardino that is experiencing an especially high rate of COVID-19 cases, Bishop Gerald Barnes and Bishop Alberto Rojas made an emphatic statement about the importance of being vaccinated against the virus when they received the Pfizer vaccine at a local Catholic hospital.

“I want to do this for the people as an example,” said Bishop Barnes, who is 75. “They need to see me do this.”

Public health officials in both Riverside and San Bernardino counties have called on the Diocese to be a voice of encouragement to Catholic communities about the need to be tested for COVID-19 and to receive the vaccine. The bishops’ decision to receive the vaccine and make it public provides an important endorsement in the campaign to promote the vaccine.

“The fact that both of them were here and had their picture taken while receiving the vaccine, it was a positive and hopeful event,” said Sister Teresa Maher, C.P.P.S., Catholic Chaplain at St. Mary Regional Medical Center. “The vaccine is another way of keeping people safe and healthy. That’s what we need to do as Christians.”

Bishop Barnes and Bishop Rojas were both observed for about 20 minutes following their vaccination and reported no significant side effects. They will be required to return to St. Mary’s in the next 2-3 weeks to receive the required second dose of the vaccine.

The two bishops arrived at St. Mary’s on the afternoon of Tuesday, December 22. In addition to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, they blessed all the entrances to the hospital with holy water, beginning with the triage unit. Two individuals who were at that location asked for and received an Episcopal blessing. Bishop Barnes and Bishop Rojas also offered a short prayer service outside the front entrance of the hospital.

“The staff and everyone there all stopped what they were doing and participated in the blessing,” Sr. Maher said. “It meant a lot to have that Church presence.”

The Diocese has been publicly advocating for local Catholics to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it arrives, issuing a statement in late November to clarify that it is morally acceptable to receive the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The Bishops of California have also issued a statement encouraging all to receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Both statements make clear that no cell tissue from aborted fetuses were used in the development or production of either vaccine and that it is therefore permissible and encouraged for Catholics to receive them.

In addition, several parishes in the Diocese have partnered with the public health departments of both San Bernardino and Riverside counties to serve as sites for COVID-19 testing and seasonal flu vaccines. When the COVID-19 vaccine become more widely available in early 2021, it will be offered at those parishes.