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Homily for ordination of Aux. Bishop Bejarano: ‘Our mission  must not be one of recovery but of transformation’

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SAN DIEGO — Bishop Robert W. McElroy delivered the following Homily at today’s ordination of the Most. Rev. Ramón Bejarano as Auxiliary Bishop of San Diego, at The Immaculata.

La segunda lectura que escogiste para tu ordenación como obispo viene de la Carta a Timoteo, quien fue el Obispo de Éfeso. San Pablo tenía como 65 años cuando la escribió y con ella trataba de animar al joven obispo, Timoteo.  En ella Pablo habla del gozo que ve en la constante fe y servicio de Timoteo, de la gratitud que él le ofrece a la familia de Timoteo por haberlo criado tan cerca a Cristo, y exhorta a Timoteo a predicar la Palabra sin cesar.

Ramón, hoy me encuentro como un obispo de la misma edad que Pablo tenía en ese entonces dirigiéndome a un joven obispo a quien tendré el privilegio de ordenar al episcopado. Lo que siento hace eco exactamente al mensaje de Pablo.

Me dan inmenso gozo la fe y el amor pastoral que han caracterizado tu sacerdocio, y el hecho que nos ayudarás a guiar nuestra Iglesia local al enfrentar el futuro.

Le doy gracias a tu madre y a tu padre por todos los sacrificios que han hecho por ti a través de tu vida, y a toda tu familia por nutrirte con amor.

Y te insto a que sigas siempre la exhortación de Pablo: Predica el Evangelio en temporada y fuera, para que las mujeres y los hombres puedan ser llevados a encontrarse con Cristo en la vida de la Iglesia.

El día que se anunció tu asignación, Ramón, visitamos al Obispo Gilberto Chávez cuando se acercaba a la muerte. Cuando le dije que tu habías sido nombrado Obispo Auxiliar de San Diego, sus ojos se iluminaron y te otorgó una hermosa bendición para tu nuevo ministerio. Esa bendición fue un símbolo de la bendición de toda la comunidad hispana por tu misión. Y fue un símbolo del alegre reconocimiento de que una vez más tenemos un obispo hispano entre nosotros.

The theme of the Good Shepherd lies at the heart of today’s Gospel. There is no image more captivating in all of the Gospels, so demanding in its utter surrender of self to the good of God’s people, so human in its expression of a care which is permanent, nurturing and protective, so individual in its expression of divine love as the care of the Father who has known us from the first moment in our mother’s womb and will love us until the end of time.

You in your priesthood, Ramón, have loved like such a shepherd, proclaiming  with evangelical zeal the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all of its intensity and fullness and encasing that proclamation in the tender intimate love that suffused the teaching of Christ himself.  You have taken to heart the pastoral conviction that mercy is the primary attribute of God in relationship with humanity, and you have labored to transform your parishes into spiritual field hospitals beckoning to all.  It is this very pastoral orientation, which has been both at the heart of the history of our local Church and at the heart of your priestly life, that gives me the greatest joy in ordaining you to the episcopate this day.

The Diocese of San Diego is still an immigrant Church which has always drawn strength and identity from the waves of men and women who have come to this place seeking to build a new life. From the immigrants of Latin America who came in the earliest days of our Catholic community to Europeans journeying west on the wagon trains, to the military men and women whose service to our nation led them to become San Diegans, to workers who have come north to labor in the rich Imperial Valley, we are a Church profoundly formed by the immigrant experience and the need to build an abiding sense of solidarity within the Church.

This search for solidarity is amplified by contemporary immigration from Asia, Africa and Latin America, even while it is challenged by the continuing need for the Catholic community and society as a whole to wrestle with our history of racism against the Native American and African American communities.

The trajectory of your life, Ramón, born in Texas, moving back to Chihuahua at the age of one, coming to California at eighteen, working in the tomato fields of the Central Valley, experiencing the nurturing love of family at every moment –has emblazoned in your heart and soul the essence of the immigrant experience and will make you an essential collaborator and architect in building up Gospel solidarity in our local Church. And your thirst for justice in a world filled with injustice, especially for migrants, brings a fire for the social teaching of the Church and the renewal of our world to align it with the imperatives of the Gospel. We need that fire, that insight, that dedication to building a Church of both unity and diversity in Christ.

In today’s first Reading from the Book of Genesis, Abraham is called to leave all that he has known and to journey forth to fulfill the mission of God. He does not cling to security, but relies totally upon the Lord.

Now you, Ramón, have received this same call to leave security and familiarity behind in order to serve our local Church. Like Abraham, you must begin anew in a new land, a new presbyterate, a new community of faith, a new mission. And throughout these long and trying months of waiting, you have never wavered in your response to God’s call. You have relied not upon the security of all that you have known and been, but upon the Lord.

As we ordain you a bishop this day, we stand in a moment of societal crisis. The pandemic has worn us down and made us fearful of the way forward. Our sisters and brothers in Imperial County are facing immense suffering as they are plunged once again into the agony of suspending public life. Racial turmoil rends our nation and demands that we confront our long history of racial and ethnic prejudice.

It would be a mistake for us as a local Church to see these challenges as temporary, or as limited in their implications for the life of the Church in San Diego.

The pandemic has transformed the landscape of our ecclesial life in ways that will permanently change the nature of pastoral action and evangelization.  Patterns of parish life that have sustained community and the proclamation of the Gospel for decades have been ruptured by the isolation of these months and the atomization of all social life that we have witnessed. There is a great danger that that pandemic is creating a culture of increased disengagement within the life of the Church that will persist long after a vaccination is found.

The issues of race and nationality, the rights of immigrants and the imperative for authentic solidarity in society and our Church that have surfaced in these past months are also a turning point, not an episode.  We are in the midst of a profound social renewal in which the meaning of equality in our nation is in these days being irrevocably changed for the better.

Finally, and most profoundly, the pandemic has destroyed our individual and collective feelings of security on every level – personal health, financial security, safety, and relationships. We have come face to face with the existential reality that we are not in control and that the security we had treasured and presumed is an illusion.

Because of these three ruptures – the disruption of ecclesial life, the overpowering recognition that we do not live in a society of authentic solidarity, and the devastating assault that the pandemic has visited upon our false sense and sources of security – the pastoral mission of the Diocese of San Diego in the coming months and years must not be one of recovery, but of transformation.

A roadmap for this transformation lies in the theology and pastoral experience of the Church in Latin America enfleshed in the Aparecida Document and the teachings of Pope Francis. It is the Church of Latin America that has formed the waves of immigrants who make up the majority of our local Church. It is the Church of Latin America which formed the bishop who will be ordained this day. And it is the Church of Latin America that has produced the most fertile and dynamic theology for meeting the mandate of Jesus Christ in the 21st century.

The foundation for fighting disengagement in the life of the Church in a post-Covid world lies in the words of the conference at Aparecida:

“what is required is confirming, renewing and revitalizing the newness of the Gospel rooted in our history, out of a personal and community encounter with Jesus Christ that raises up disciples and missionaries.”

     In other words, discipleship demands mission and arises only from an encounter with Christ. The experience of a pandemic has made this more true, not less.

We must reimagine our pastoral life and outreach in the light of this first principle. We must seize upon the new instruments of evangelization we have discovered in these days and reexamine every fundamental assumption of our pastoral outreach in order to bring to our community of faith the foundation for intimate personal encounter with Jesus Christ. During these months of Covid, I have witnessed incredible pastoral creativity on the part of our priests, parish staffs and lay leadership which has been focused upon designing a new and more personalized outreach in the name of Jesus Christ. Now we must harness that creativity and turn it toward our enduring call to create disciples who are truly missionary in a changed world. We must become on fire.

As we face the racial, ethnic and class divisions that have engulfed our nation and afflict our Church, we can find guidance in the central concept that guided Aparecida on the issue of solidarity: The concept of exclusion. The Latin American Church recognized that the historic theological term of marginalization did not capture the totality of the experience of alienation within church and society. Attacks upon solidarity do not merely place people on the margins of society and Church, they exclude them entirely from meaningful participation.  Exclusion is a reality in which issues of race, class and power coalesce.  If we are to build true solidarity within the community of the Church and our nation, we must recognize the sinfulness that lies in all structures and actions of exclusion and exclusivity.  In banishing that sinfulness, we move toward justice, and we heal ourselves.

Finally, in this Covid moment our illusions of security have been shattered. We are forced to ask ourselves as believers: How have I conceived of security in my life? Dreams have been shattered in these months, relationships damaged, careers and businesses destroyed. There is no more important work for the Church in the coming months than consoling those who have been broken and bringing to our world the understanding that God provides the only enduring foundation for the journey of life on this earth. In the words of Aparecida, “Those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others.” As people of faith, all of us must become comfortable with leaving security on the shore rather than seeking to create it through the prism of the cultural norms that suffocate us and our world.

Today, Ramón, you leave security on the shore. You come among us as a loving shepherd, a man of sustained faith and an immigrant bishop in an immigrant Church. In that, we rejoice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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