"I found Oakland to be the biggest surprise of my life," said the Most Rev. Alex J. Brunett, who since Oct. 4, has served as the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Oakland.
When 5,000 pilgrims braved the rain for the annual 7.5-mile procession honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe, Archbishop Brunett welcomed them to the cathedral, and, with several Latino priests, celebrated Mass in Spanish.
The archbishop has been an active participant in activities to raise funds for a cause dear to his heart, Catholic education. He was an enthusiastic presence at the Family Aid Catholic Education (FACE) auction, where he helped to exhort the crowd to dig deep for tuition assistance.
Similarly, he spoke at Moreau Catholic High School's Funding Hopes and Dreams luncheon, telling the gathering about the Fulcrum Foundation, which he founded in Seattle to aid Catholic education, and the fund named for him that helps families with special needs, such as single-parent households, keep their children in Catholic school. At Bishop O'Dowd High School, he turned a ceremonial shovelful of dirt at the groundbreaking for the school's new Environmental Education Center. There, too, he encouraged those with the ability to do so to help fund opportunities for Catholic education.
Two Masses in the Cathedral of Christ the Light showed the archbishop's leadership and heart. After the shootings at a Connecticut school last December, the archbishop invited diocesan schools to a weekday Mass to remember the victims, most of them young children and their teachers and principal.
In his opening prayer, the archbishop encouraged those present to "cherish the gift of life" and to "learn from these events how important the gift of life is."
Last month, the archbishop invited the diocese to a Mass of Thanksgiving for the election of Pope Francis. In his homily, the archbishop noted two themes that had emerged in the new pope's first days: hope and joy.
These have been themes of the archbishop's ministry, both here and in Seattle. In an interview with The Catholic Voice, the archbishop said that when he became archbishop of Seattle, he had commissioned a report on its needs. One word came to him: Hope.
Turning to his breviary, he came to Jeremiah, who speaks of a future full of hope.
"I entitled the book that," he said. "I like to end my letters that way: In Christ our hope.
"I established a parish in downtown Seattle, Christ Our Hope, because it was surrounded by prostitutes, street people, low-income people, wealthy bankers, all these kinds of people," he said.
"Hope is an extremely important part of ministry: People have to have hope for the future," he said. "I tried to bring that here, to the people of the diocese."
When he came to the diocese, he had been through Oakland, but had not spent time here. He had heard there was a lot of crime here, and that there was nothing here to see.
"I came from Detroit, where the description of Detroit was similar," he said.
"Sure there's violence here," he said, "but it's not a violent culture."
He learned that stepping out his front door. "Walking around Lake Merritt, I see a lot of families, I see a lot of babies, people that are trying to take care of their health, young and old. I see people who have smiles on their face. Very engaging conversations going on all the time."
"I found Oakland to be the biggest surprise of my life," he said, "because I see it as being a really, really healthy area. They may be short on resources but that doesn't make them poor. They're very strong on the spirit of the people here and the desire to live in a nonviolent society and nonviolent culture. They have tremendous potential. There's nothing they can't do here."
In terms of the church, the archbishop said more could be done to raise vocations locally, "with people who have a commitment already to the Oakland area." While grateful for and to those who come to serve from other lands, he said the church could do more to build vocations from within, including from the schools.
The archbishop's calendar will be full when he returns to Seattle. He has been receiving requests for masses. He will get involved again with the scholarship that bears his name, checking in with families. He may even get a chance to play golf: He played golf only once in his eight months here.
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