Forty years ago, a people of faith embraced a new adventure, a new beginning. Through the ministry of St. Pope Paul VI, God called the people of the Inland Empire, like he had called many times before to step forward, to take the next step, to create a local church; a diocese under the patronage of St. Bernardine of Siena and Our Lady of Guadalupe.
And as the scripture today proclaims, the people were filled with expectation and were reminded that they are the beloved children of God. No longer strangers or sojourners, but fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God.
God called Bishop Phillip Straling, a son of the Inland Empire, to shepherd this new church and Bishop Straling did it well, he did it very well. 235,000 Catholics became a church with their own shepherd, a successor of the apostles. We are grateful to Bishop Straling and to our mother diocese, the Diocese of
San Diego, and all those who gave birth to our diocese in 1978. The two bishops of the diocese of San Diego have come to join us this morning and I ask you to greet them with our appreciation. Bishop McElroy and Bishop Dolan.
Bishop McElroy told me this morning he is going to petition Rome to take back the Diocese. You see, he knows what’s good. From these beginnings in 1978 new parishes were erected. We already had historical places like the oldest parish in the Diocese, St. Bernardine, and now [we have] the newest parish, St. Oscar Romero. Schools were built. A house of formation, Serra House, for seminarians was established; programs for lay formation, the Straling Leadership Institute.
We received new people from throughout California and the United States as well as from Europe, Africa, Latin America, the Pacific Islands and Asia.
And we welcomed them. We also welcomed and ordained deacons and priests to serve the people of God. And the first priest ordained for our Diocese, our new church, was our own Msgr. Thomas Wallace.
Through these 40 years there have been many accomplishments. That this Diocese took Vatican II seriously and formed itself to reflect the teachings of that Ecumenical Council and as we grew in acknowledgement that our diversity is a blessing from God and unity in diversity is constituent of who we are, as well as evangelization and social justice.
We identified areas of concern which became our goals, family, youth, stewardship of our resources, leadership and organizational structures. We addressed them with new ministries, equipping ourselves with the formation necessary to meet our goals.
We crafted a mission statement, articulating the vision, our vision, which will unite us as a diocese and guide our steps ahead.
To take the steps forward, we said we wanted to be known by four core values: hospitality, reconciliation, faith sharing and collaboration. We wanted these values to impact each of us, as well as our parishes, our families and our neighborhoods.
We’ve had our trials and our challenges. We grew too fast, from 235,000 Catholics to 1.7 million Catholics. This growth meant that we would always be trying to accommodate the new people who joined us. So we had to face many building projects, this church being one of them, and create new ways of staffing our parishes. We had challenges in never having enough vocations to meet our needs and to share with other dioceses and missions.
We looked with blessings that many had come to help us from other countries and dioceses in the world. That we have an international body of priests for our need is so great and we are grateful for their vocations among us.
We’ve had our share of racial and ethnic divisions. We struggled with limited financial resources. We failed at times to respect the different ecclesiologies, theologies, traditions and political philosophies and preferences of our diverse population. But we have endured these trials and we met these challenges relying on God’s presence among us and we trust in the creative presence of the Holy Spirit to lead us on one step at a time.
A significant trial has been the sexual abuse crisis of our time. We went through this about ten years ago and today it is still a great trial that confronts us. We must find a way to rid ourselves of this abhorrent practice. It needs our immediate and whole-hearted attention. It is a scandal that has no place in the church of Christ and must be fixed, and those injured in any way by this disgrace must be healed.
The first reading of today’s liturgy sums up our response. I will call it to mind as my reason to have hope. The favors of the Lord are not exhausted, His mercies are not spent; they are revived each morning, so great is His faithfulness. We live in hope, we share hope, especially with the most vulnerable of our society. With those that are the least, the lost, the last, the little ones.
These 40 years our God has been faithful to us and that is what we celebrate today. We give attention to the transcendent presence of our God in our history as a local church and in this celebration. We pledge our fidelity to Him and to one another. We take the next step. Lantern in hand guiding us in the light of Christ into the years to come, to go were the Lord calls us, His people, to go with hope.
Cheers to forty years! God’s blessing.