FEBRUARY 9, 2004




In His Light

by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron

Renewed hope in the midst of great sorrow

In order to meet the deadline for this edition of The Voice, I’m writing this column in the last days of January. As I look back on this month, I admit that it has been marked by great sorrow. As most of you are aware, in mid-January the Diocese of Oakland settled a case of clergy sexual abuse. The details were in the papers and on TV, and so once again our shame was very public.

But in this last week of January, there have been two wonderful experiences that have helped me bring into focus again the great good that God does in His Church. I want to share the joy of these graces with you.

The first blessing was the Seton Award’s ceremony at Holy Names High School. The Seton Award is presented, as the citation says, “by the Department of Catholic Schools and the Diocesan School Board to those who best exemplify the spirit of the Catholic School in its tradition of proclaiming the Word, building community and rendering service.” The award takes its name from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, a pioneer in Catholic education in the U.S., and was first awarded in 1981.

This year’s awardees were Mrs. Jeanne Sousa, the school secretary at St. Bede’s in Hayward, and Mrs. Susan Wainwright, a parent-leader at St. Philip Neri School in Alameda.

As Dr. Joseph Connell, the president of the Diocesan School Board, read the account of each woman’s service that led to her nomination, I was deeply moved with gratitude to the Holy Spirit for the powerful way grace has been at work in the lives of these members of our diocese. With great fidelity and that sort of unassuming zeal which are always the marks of a true imitation of Christ, they have for years spent themselves serving our children and strengthening the Church by helping to build up our schools.

In hearing the record of their tireless dedication, I realized once again how powerfully the Lord is present and operative in our midst. Their witness was like a balm to my spirit, and I want you to bask in that with me.

The second grace that I want to share with you was a meeting I had with the leaders of the diocese’s Affordable Housing Initiative. They brought me up to date about all the good that has been accomplished in our parishes and communities since Bishop Cummins launched this project over a year ago. Without much money, but with a lot of love and commitment, a whole cadre of folks at the grass roots level has been empowered – to borrow a phrase hollowed by Catholic Action – “to think, to judge and to act.”

Many, many of the faithful have come together to learn both from experts and from one another about the problems associated with the lack of affordable housing in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. After examining the situation, they have formed coalitions to address these problems, and they have worked very hard to put these plans into place in their local municipalities.

The leaders told me about our successes and about our disappointments. But most importantly they told me of the unbreakable resolve to stay on task, because that’s what Christ expects of His followers. I am pleased that The Voice will be highlighting the work of the coalitions in the Feb. 23 edition.

At this meeting the leaders also outlined some directions along which the Housing Initiative will take us in the near future. Here I was particularly heartened to learn that the Initiative will be looking into more ways to support our parishioners in addressing the needs of the homeless.

To advance our goals we want to work even more closely with other Christians and with people of other faiths. It is my hope that we will, in fact, set up coalitions at two levels. I would like to see the establishment of an ongoing body of religious leaders or clergy from the various faith-communities in the area to meet periodically in order to consider how we can encourage our respective congregations to work together to advance the common good.

The other coalition I look for is an interfaith body of both religious and civic leaders to support the efforts of all persons of faith to build a healthier and more just society in the East Bay.

So, you see why I come to the end of January with renewed hope. Even in the midst of our weakness the Lord, whose real power is His love, is moving His disciples to be His instruments for the building up of the new creation.


Official newspaper of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Oakland, California encompassing all of
Alameda &
Contra Costa counties.