By Carmen F. Aguinaco
When something happens around the world, in the United States, in any city or in San Bernardino, California, a familiar voice is often heard calling to action or prayer. It is the voice of Bishop Gerald Barnes who, always attentive to the signs of the times, is convinced that his vocation as a Christian, and as leader of his church, is to read the events in prayer and act on them.
An example of this was seen during the enactment of Arizona’s immigration law. Bishop Barnes said, “Our responsibility as citizens and Catholics is to speak up when laws do not respect the basic dignity of every human being… Mainly, we believe in the Gospel and its clear call to extend a hand to the poor and vulnerable among us, to welcome them, and insist that their lives are treated with the dignity and respect that God grants everyone. There is no exception to this rule and there is no precept that is above it.”
Aware of the great importance it has for Hispanics, one the bishop’s main concern is education. Born in Phoenix, Arizona and raised in California, Barnes comes from a working class family. His father had a small grocery store where all the children helped out. The Barnes couple was the first witness of a faith in action for their children. They helped the homeless and those who were illiterate with their bureaucratic paperwork.
The Barnes also instilled in their children an interest for education; mom helped with the homework and dad continued his education while working and supporting the family. Bishop Barnes studied in public and parochial schools in Los Angeles, attended a state university where he earned a bachelor degree in political science, and afterwards entered the seminary where the challenge presented by devoting his life, and all the gifts he had received, to God and his church was intensified. And he has not forgotten that challenge.
In 1995, Barnes was appointed bishop of San Bernardino, one of the fastest growing dioceses in the U.S., currently serving 1.5 million Catholics. Under the leadership of Barnes, the diocese has acquired a great reputation for promoting lay leadership.
“One of my objectives has been to affirm people’s gifts and provide the necessary formation and preparation to use them effectively,” Bishop Barnes said. “Another achievement, also underway, is for people to see diversity as a blessing. Despite the challenges it implies, we are on the right path… Another one of my dreams for the diocese is seeing more lay people with theological and pastoral preparation working with the priests in the care of the diocese.”
Bishop Barnes’ voice is not just heard in his diocese, but on a national level. He was formerly the chairperson of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Migration Committee and currently heads the Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs.
Where did you receive your faith? What are the most important lessons you learned? In what way does this faith move you to act in your world?