Bishop Gerald R. Barnes is celebrating his 25th year of leadership in the Diocese of San Bernardino, which includes Riverside and San Bernardino counties. No current Roman Catholic bishop in the United States has led a diocese longer than Barnes, diocese officials said.
Throughout the years, Barnes has pushed the church to embrace immigration reform. The way he sees it, the church has been a champion of immigrants since the very beginning. It has been there for the Italians, the Irish, Japanese, and Chinese.
The question of how to comfort immigrants has been a constant issue, including now, as many fear deportation under Donald Trump’s presidency.
“It’s not new, but it’s the time that we’re living … It breaks my heart. “What breaks my heart is that some of us, some people seem to have no compassion for what the other is going through,” he said.
Barnes worries that some people may not care when families are deported and separated. The Inland area is home to about 250,000 undocumented immigrants, yet the diocese has not decided whether it should official declare itself a sanctuary institution.
For now, Barnes said the diocese is hosting forums to teach immigrants about their constitutional rights. Through what he called a ministry of accompaniment, church members are comforting immigrants and praying with them. Also, the diocese hosts other forums to address, through church teaching, the humanity of the issue.
DIFFERENT BUT INCLUSIVE
To Barnes, engaging in dialogue, especially with those who may have differing views, is one of the pope’s most urgent calls. It’s a way to navigate through the complexities of family life, he said.
For example, although the church condemns birth control as sinful, Barnes recognizes that some people due to certain issues, like the health of a woman, may choose to use contraception.
“As a church, we don’t condemn that person,” he said. “We continue our teaching. We hold that person welcome, although we may not fully understand why that person is doing that.”
Barnes has long supported the gay community through the ministries of diocese. Although, he has rejected same-sex marriage.
He noted a commission that aims to support church members who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). The commission has been around for nearly two decades, he said, and it provides support for family members and for LGBT people.
The committee is to “help us understand how to be more inclusive, how to reach out,” he said. “It isn’t meant for carrying any kind of agenda. Other than, we are family. We are one.”
The Diocese of San Bernardino has earned a nationwide reputation for being especially welcoming of diversity.
When he took leadership here, Barnes noticed there weren’t many Asians making decisions.
“So I began to approach different people to be on there,” Barnes said. “So that we could hear their point of view (and) so that others could recognize that these other groups of people are also part of our church.”
And he referenced the Mass held earlier this month to celebrate his 25th year as proof.
The Mass was to reflect the multicultural profile of the Catholic church in the Inland area, which included liturgical dancing and scriptural readings in different languages.
“Someone from the outside would say it was a multicultural celebration … It wasn’t. It was a church celebration,” he said.
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