| We're guests no longer,
ethnic leaders tell bishop
Representatives from 17 ethnic ministries and pastoral centers told Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, they are no longer guests in the diocese, but active participants in the lives of their pastoral centers, parishes and the diocese.
In a getting-to-know you session with the bishop at the parish hall of the Cathedral of Christ the Light on Oct. 17, about 100 leaders of ministries introduced themselves and shared with the bishop their blessings, their challenges and their hopes for the future.
Similarly, representatives of Latino ministry met with the bishop in May.
"I came to listen and meet everyone," Bishop Barber said. "I'm very pleased you are in Oakland, and in the Catholic Church, and that you are practicing the faith."
He noted the ethnic communities' "love for priests, deacons and this poor bishop," he said.
"I've had the privilege to serve around the world," the bishop said. "I've seen how the Catholic faith is being practiced outside the United States."
Among the challenges the ethnic communities' representatives told the bishop about was their need for priests for celebrating Mass and the sacraments in their native languages; development of lay leadership; and assistance with helping their young people remain faithful Catholics.
They asked the bishop in particular to advocate for them with his brother bishops in nearby dioceses. Many of the East Bay ethnic communities draw members from San Jose, Santa Rosa and San Francisco, which would include at least four other dioceses.
They requested greater cooperation with the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the Dioceses of Sacramento, Santa Rosa and San Jose in supplying priests. Some communities depend on a visiting scholar priest who might spend a year or two ministering to them.
Bishop Barber told them he could be an advocate for them, but reminded them that he could not just borrow a priest from another country and keep him, no matter how much he was needed here. "How can I do that to my brother bishops?" he asked.
He offered an alternative to importing priests: He asked, "Can we get vocations from our local community?"
The Polish community is among those seeking a priest who speaks their language.
"We need a priest," said Deacon Witold Cichon. In the Polish community, he said, "the person who is the unifier is always the priest."
Some representatives said a challenge is losing lifelong Catholics from their countries to other faith communities in the United States.
"It would break my heart if any of our Catholic people would have to go to another church to find Christ," the bishop said later.
Keeping their children active in the faith is another challenge they are meeting. Representatives from the Portuguese community said they "continue to teach our kids and grandkids all the traditions we learned from our parents and grandparents."
Sister Rosaline Nguyen, LHC, who coordinates the ministry to Vietnamese people had told the bishop of faith formation for the community's children and youth. "We're working very hard for them," she said.
The bishop said he shared concerns on "how we communicate the faith to our children so they don't wander away."
Sister Felicia Sarati, CSJ, shared with the group a history of the ethnic communities of the diocese of Oakland, and how the diocese has reacted to the arrival of a myriad of ethnic and cultural groups over the last 50 years.
The ethnic communities gave a gift to the bishop that is close to his heart, making a donation to St. Vincent d Paul to feed the hungry.
Then it was time to eat.
"A feast is not as royal or noble if the pig is not there," said the hosts. So the bishop said a blessing over the centerpiece spit-roasted pig, a late dinner composed of food of many nations was served, and fellowship began.
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