Here we are, two days after the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress and I am trying to fight off an ear-worm that keeps asking the question, "Why San Bernardino and no one else?" For two years now I have spend the majority of my time at the Congress in the exhibit hall of the Anaheim Convention Center. This is a forest of commercial exhibit booths where the denizens of Corporate America hawk their church wares. They have everything from olive wood rosaries direct from Jerusalem (4 New Israel Shekels = $1.00) to some of the best modern Church furniture (a four-candle stylized Advent "wreath", $10K) including some of the best liturgical vestments you've ever seen. Should I mention books, medals, trinkets and rear view mirror dingle-dangles?
There are two exceptions: the space is dominated by the exhibit of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which includes an online chat facility with Cardinal Mahony himself. Then, we get back to my question, "Why San Bernardino and no one else?" You see, San Bernardino Diocese is the only other diocese that has a "booth". The bishops of San Bernardino Diocese immerse themselves in the ebb and flow of the human tide that throws itself up on the beach of their simple enclave. There they are, unprotected, in the open, standing in the aisle as the current of humanity washes by them, swirling back to form a small eddy and drop off a gracious "Hello" and get a warm handshake back. ParishWorld.net had a booth not 40 feet away from the position of Bishops Barnes and del Riego and I was able to observe the action from pretty close. I can say with no fear of error, they had never a dull moment.
They are two different people, these two. Bishop Barnes, quiet and low key. Bishop del Riego flitting about like a butterfly wearing Jack Nicholson sun glasses, "working" the crowd and giving and taking graciousness for the sake of the Lord. I observed that for three days and couldn't stop asking myself, "Where are the others?" Where is San Diego? Santa Barbara? San Jose? Fresno? San Francisco? Honolulu? After all, there are 40,000 Catholic people gathered here in one place. There is n0 surprise about the schedule. Why are the bishops staying home? I am simply asking the question. Like Marc Anthony, I must admit "non appareo ante populi ut sepulteo Caesarem, sed ut laudetur." (I am not here to bury Caesar, but to praise him.) I am here to raise a glass of cheer and grace to the two bishops of San Bernardino Diocese. I think that they "get it." They know where the people are, and they go there. Like Jesus who stood in the boat and preached to the people on the mount, these two left their ordinary tasks and brought themselves to the place where they could make a spiritual impact on the flock. "Why are they the only ones?" Like Francis of Assisi (even in nice shiny shoes and expensive "shades") they placed themselves in the center of the populace and even if all they ever said was, "Hi, there! How ya doing?", it was God preaching through them. What would it have been if there had been 20 more bishops there among their (and others) people? I never visited the San Bernqardino Diocese booth. Bishop del Riego visited the Parishworld.net booth twice. Bishop Barnes imparted his episcopal blessing on Wally Arida, our Publisher, somewhere in the hall, I forget where. Outside of the Cardinal and a couple of bishops from the Los Angeles area (Bishop Clark being one of them), the bishops of San Bernardino, not a mainstream metropolis for sure, were there carrying on their missionary calling.
Bishops Barnes and del Riego have a lot of challenges, just as every other bishop does. The wonder of these two is that they are not afraid to engage with the faithful entrusted to them in the taming of their challenges.
It is to be hoped that their colleagues in the episcopate will follow their courageous example. I personally invite other bishops to come to join us in Los Angeles next year and the years to follow. If you do, your rewards will be so great that you won't have the slightest inclination to cry at my funeral. I know for a fact that neither Bishop Barnes nor Bishop del Riego will...