In February, the Diocese held the annual Combined Vicariate Meetings. The meetings were virtual this year, and attendees included clergy, parish and diocesan employees and lay ministers. There were two separate meetings, one for the Riverside Pastoral Region, held February 9, and one for the San Bernardino Pastoral Region, held February 16.
This year, the meetings were centered around the current Synod on Synodality, a worldwide Church initiative focusing on listening to each other and walking together as a Church.
The Combined Vicariate Meetings began with a general session for all attendees, livestreamed on YouTube. At the start of the general session, each Pastoral Region was welcomed by their Episcopal Vicar – Father Rafael Partida for the Riverside Pastoral Region and Father Romeo Selección, M.S., for the San Bernardino Pastoral Region.
The general session also included music, with the Office of Worship’s Coordinator Chris Estrella leading a song and the Office of Ministry to Catholics of African Descent’s Director David Okonkwo playing an African drum.
Next, several persons, representing youth, young adults, various ethnic communities, clergy, the elderly and other groups led attendees in praying the prayers of the faithful.
Afterwards, each Pastoral Region had a chance to hear from the Vicar Forane of each Vicariate. Father Anthony Dao, Vicar Forane for the Hemet Vicariate, said that “in general, the spirit from the Hemet Vicariate is very positive ... the faithful continue to do the mission from God.”
Father Benedict Nwachukwu-Udaku, Vicar Forane for the West End Vicariate, also expressed a hopeful outlook despite the ongoing pandemic. “There is something beyond the realities we face today. There is something greater than COVID-19. Our God is with us,” he said. The other Vicars Forane echoed similar sentiments as Fr. Dao and Fr. Nwachukwu-Udaku.
Sister Leticia Salazar, O.D.N., the Diocese’s Chancellor, next introduced the keynote speaker for the meeting, Sister Nathalie Becquart, RSCJ, who gave the talk via Zoom from Rome. Sr. Nathalie, a consultor and undersecretary to the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church, focused on synodality and the synodal journey in her address, in keeping with the general theme of this year’s Combined Vicariate Meeting.
After Sr. Nathalie’s address, the meeting split off into breakout listening sessions. Attendees had the option to go into a Zoom meeting where they could listen to the perspectives of young people, clergy or lay ministers. Each breakout session was conducted as a Q&A, with a moderator asking the questions and the panelists replying.
In response to the question of when, if ever, you have felt unwelcome in the Church, Tony Pimentel, Youth Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Oscar Romero parish in Eastvale, shared that he had been made to felt unwelcome among other youth leaders when he was ministering to teens in the past.
During a meeting with these youth leaders once, Pimentel said that everyone started to complain about him in a hypercritical way about things that he felt were very minor. “I was just trying to help, and that was the last thing I expected from [people in the Church],” he said.
Pimentel continued, speaking honestly by saying, “The Church sometimes disappoints me. The Church during the pandemic disappointed me.” Although he acknowledges that the decision to lock down the Church and other ministries during the height of the pandemic was a difficult one to make, he feels like the parishes “could have done more to reach out.”
“When we went on lockdown and closed down the church, as a staff member when I talked to parishioners, it broke my heart to tell them that we weren’t present. And again, I don’t know what the right action was, but it felt like a failure to act ... That decision to lock our doors, to not be able to meet and gather in that way, we’re seeing the effects of this in a church that was already shrinking before the pandemic,” Pimentel said.
The listening session for the clergy touched on the same issue, of how to thrive as a Church amid the pandemic’s challenges. Father Ian Hollick, Parochial Vicar at St. Martha, Murrieta, said that the Church needs to reach out again instead of using COVID as an excuse to be lazy in its evangelization.
“I don’t think [the Church] is doing the basics very well. We have a mission statement: ‘Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20),” said Fr. Hollick. “We have to make sure [what we do] is in line with the Holy Spirit, not with what we want to do,” he added.
The clergy panelists also shared about their hopes and dreams for the Church. Fr. Francisco Gomez, S.T., Pastor of Our Lady of Soledad in Coachella, said that he hoped that the “sense of family can be cultivated much more ... we are all members of the same human family.”
“I hope this pandemic that has touched the entire world can be a purifying experience, that there are some things that are not part of being church, that we let go of them,” he added.
Deacon John DeGano, assigned to St. Catherine of Alexandria, Riverside and Interim Vicar Forane for the Riverside Vicariate, said, “I dream of a church that’s enlivened by faith and the Holy Spirit ... that means going out and doing mission and evangelization. A welcoming church ... We need to celebrate a church of unity and diversity, reaching out to share the good news,” he concluded.