The bishop, above, used a radio-controlled toy helicopter during his homily. Before the Mass, the bishop, left, dressed in his purple cassock, explained the various vestments he would wear for the Mass.
THE CATHOLIC VOICE
The bishop of Oakland used a paper airplane, a radio-controlled toy helicopter and a keen sense of his audience in the homily he delivered Sept. 26 to about 1,000 eighth-graders from Catholic schools in the Diocese of Oakland.
Most Rev. Michael C. Barber, SJ, who has said, "I wanted to be a teaching priest," was illustrating the role of guardian angels in telling the stories of two people who believe their guardian angels saved them from death, one in an airliner crash, the other a military helicopter pilot. The third person told companions he had seen an angel — right before he died.
The bishop welcomed the students, who came from 30 diocesan and private Catholic schools in the diocese, to the cathedral for the third-annual Mass for Eighth Graders.
Before the start of the Mass, the bishop, dressed in his purple cassock, stood at the front of the cathedral, and explained the various vestments that he would wear for the Mass.
The teachable moment was one of many during the day.
A day like this works on two levels, said Valerie Spangenberger, principal of St. Catherine of Siena School in Martinez. "It's nice for them to have this feeling of coming together with all the schools in the diocese," she said, noting that hers is among the smaller schools. Not to be discounted, however, is the opportunity to "share this experience with their classmates."
For many of the students, it was their first visit to the cathedral, which was dedicated five years ago. The students, most traveling on chartered bus or public transportation, gathered on the cathedral plaza for ice-breaker games and music by Grace and Adam Chaffey.
The eighth-graders were treated to a lecture by Jackie Francois, who peppered her talk with popular music. When she broke into song — sometimes in midsentence — she was often joined enthusiastically by the young people.
Her topic was love. She recounted her own story, of choosing to live a chaste life until marriage, of saying no to drugs and alcohol, and of praying for — and sometimes painfully waiting — for the right man in her life. When she told the students she had married a month ago, they burst into loud applause.
After her talk, some students shared their thoughts about Francois' talk.
"She was repeating and reinforcing" her message, said Jacob Martin, an eighth-grader at St. Joseph School in Fremont.
"It was spirited and emotional," said his classmate, David Sie.
"The program talked about things we need to talk about, but we don't talk about," said Vivian Hoang. "It's embarrassing, but important."
Francois' talk was followed by the 12:10 p.m. Mass at the cathedral, with the bishop presiding. At the end of Mass, the bishop blessed religious medals, which were presented to the students as they left the cathedral.
He told the students the next time he'd see them, it would be in their parishes, at Confirmation.
After Mass, the bishop posed for photos with each group, as they used the cathedral steps facing Lake Merritt as impromptu risers. As classes gathered around him for photos, and quickly made way for the next waiting group, some students shook hands with the bishop, who also exchanged a few fist bumps and high fives.
Jose Luis Castaneda, an eighth-grader at St. Anthony's, got an assist from the bishop in opening the clasp on the chain that held his religious medal. The bishop put the medal around the young man's neck.
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