SAN DIEGO — Pope Francis has had a profound impact on the Diocese of San Diego. In 2015, he named its leader, Bishop Robert W. McElroy, and seven years later elevated him to a cardinal. The pope’s initiatives aim to build a listening Church, which intentionally engages and responds to the needs of its members, particularly the marginalized. The directors of the diocese’s pastoral offices share how that vision has shaped their ministries.
Father Michael Pham, Vicar General, Office for Ethnic and Intercultural Communities
From the beginning, it was obvious from his open approach, that this pope, a Jesuit named Francis, would be different. He challenged us to open our hearts and minds. He raised fundamental issues, inviting us to encounter one another and dialogue, and to pray for a better Church proclaiming the Good News.
I was particularly drawn to his vision of an inclusive Church and his drive for more listening and collaboration. Pope Francis purposefully sought to hear from voices often not heard. He appointed cardinals from smaller countries which previously were unrecognized, and found many avenues to listen to laypersons, specifically to women and young people.
The mission of the Office for Ethnic and Intercultural Communities reinforces Pope Francis’ vision — “May the Church be the place of God’s mercy and love, where everyone feels welcomed.”
Guided by Cardinal (Robert W.) McElroy, we strive to witness the grace of cultural diversity, encouraging the cultural communities to preserve their faith traditions and share them with their parishes and the greater Catholic community. Their leaders have been invited to participate in the decision-making councils of the diocese.
The office promotes understanding, reminding us that we are “one family in Christ.” In 2020-21, we created online forums to listen and dialogue about racism and its effects, and to identify steps, especially in our Church, to heal. The process of sharing continues in many parishes.
In 2018, the diocese held its first Pentecost Mass for All Peoples, bringing together about 1,500 people to pray and celebrate our faith. This year’s event is preparing to receive almost 3,000 on May 27 at San Diego Miramar College.
Our office continues to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and by Pope Francis’ words and actions: “To accept that we have been set free by Christ — His passion, His death, His resurrection — is to accept and bring fullness even to the different traditions of every people. True fullness.”
Director Robert Ehnow, PhD, Office for Life, Peace and Justice
The Office for Life, Peace and Justice’s mission is centered on Catholic Social Teaching’s recognition of human dignity and the sanctity of life for all persons, from conception to natural death, welcoming the immigrant, tending to the incarcerated, and caring for the environment.
Pope Francis’ papacy has prioritized ministering to those on the margins, including immigrants displaced by war and economic turmoil, the incarcerated, the homeless, and the working poor.
Pope Francis designated 2016 as the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, a year of forgiveness and compassion. The year purposefully included an offer of understanding and reconciliation to the most vulnerable members of our global community.
During Pope Francis’ first visit to North America in 2015, he met with more than 100 inmates at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility outside of Philadelphia. This visit highlighted his solidarity with prisoners and their families, providing an example of how to be compassionate to those marginalized community members.
Pope Francis’ second encyclical, “Laudato Si’” (Praise Be to You), calls all of us to action to turn away from consumerism and a “throw-away culture” to be responsible stewards of God’s creation — our environment.
Pope Francis labeled abortion as murder and continues to uphold Catholic teaching on the intrinsic evil of abortion while simultaneously offering compassion to mothers who face difficult choices regarding families.
His papacy guides and motivates the diocesan ministries in our office, whose mission is aligned with the priorities that Pope Francis has set for the Universal Church, ones focused on being in solidarity and offering service to individuals and communities living on the margins.
Chancellor and Director Marioly Galván, Office for Evangelization and Catechetical Ministry
Pope Francis’ papacy has brought a renewed vision for the ministry of the catechist and the vital role of evangelization within the life of the Church.
In “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), his first apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis underscores the kerygma as the foundation for sharing the Good News; simply stated, the love of Christ. His approach redirects our universal call to partake of the shared mission of placing the encounter with Christ as our ultimate goal before any program or catechetical event.
This framework has greatly shaped the level of intentionality and engagement; particularly, as we minister to students and families. The degree with which our pastoral ministers have adopted pastoral listening and accompaniment has dramatically increased our awareness of the needs in our parish communities.
For those serving in catechetical ministry, Pope Francis’ call to be echoes of the living Word has challenged faith formators to delve deeper into the mystery. We are reminded, “all Christian formation consists of entering more deeply into the kerygma” (EV,165). The goal for evangelization is to continue the journey sparked by catechetical formation, to make known the love of Christ, to witness the presence of Christ along the journey and not perceive Him as an archaic and distant occurrence.
Pope Francis’ approach essentially is the “how” in ministry, complementing the philosophical and foundational teachings of St. John Paul II, namely the “what” we should believe, and those of Pope Benedict XVI, the “why” we should believe.
Most recently, Pope Francis has formally instituted the Ministry of the Catechist in his apostolic letter “Antiquum Ministerium,” affirming the service of catechists and emphasizing the importance of their ongoing formation.
Director John Prust, Office for Family Life and Spirituality
Ricardo Márquez and I were lucky to start working for our office riding a wave of ministry momentum that started with Pope Francis’ historic calling of the Synod of Bishops on the Family in 2014. The pope summarized the conclusions of this synod in his apostolic exhortation on family life, “Amoris Laetitia” (Joy of Love).
While there were no changes in doctrine that came out of the synod, it did open up important conversations about the way we, as a Church, minister to families and marriages. And it prompted our own bishop, now Cardinal, McElroy to call a local iteration of the synod focused on the joys and challenges in family life we face in San Diego and Imperial counties. Where has the Spirit been moving among us? How is the Holy Spirit challenging us to grow?
The synod yielded proposals and challenges for our diocese. A few themes stood out. One was the challenge to witness to both the beauty and the realism of the Catholic vision for marriage and family life. Another was the importance of mutually discerning and accompanying one another as we work to build a culture of families serving families.
Our office, which opened in August 2017, joyfully partners with parishes and ministries to bring to life those proposals. We offered a new marriage preparation program, called “Witness to Love,” that aims to accompany newly married couples far past their wedding day. We launched a marriage enrichment series to help couples resolve problems and strengthen their relationship. We began a ministry to serve separated and divorced Catholics. And we began “Healing Pathways,” a series of workshops that provide basic tools for families to respond to challenges in mental health, addiction and parenting.
Director Maricruz Flores, Office for Youth and Young Adults
“A home, as we all know, demands that everyone work together. No one can be indifferent or stand apart, since each is a stone needed to build the home.” This excerpt from “Christus Vivit” (Christ Is Alive!), Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, paints a portrait of what youth and young adult ministry should be. Each and every one of us — youth minister, youth, young adult, confirmation coordinator, DCM, DRE, catechists, volunteers — make up this home. Pope Francis invites us to be united, to form a home, because this ministry is not meant to be done alone.
“Christus Vivit” is a letter to all young people and those who work in youth and young adult ministry. He calls us to action, to genuinely and authentically accompany our young people, to form our young people as leaders and pray for them fervently.
Inspired by the pope, our diocese began a process in September of 2019 that asked young adults from every parish to “dream big” about how they would create a Church that engaged their generation and helped them to grow in their faith. The consultation, called a synod, was titled “Christ Lives! A Time of Dreams and Decisions.” The young adults presented 25 proposals to then Bishop McElroy, who committed to implementing them.
Our office is leading that implementation. Our office offers our complete support in forming leaders, offering workshops, and providing a welcoming environment for all in youth and young adult ministry. From our “Theology on Tap” nights to Camp Emmaus to formation workshops, our mission aligns with that of Pope Francis: to walk with our young people in their journey of faith.
Msgr. Steven Callahan, Tribunal
In December 2015, Pope Francis announced a number of changes in the process of seeking a marriage annulment. Four of these changes were most significant in making this process less cumbersome to complete.
Before December 2015, if a prior spouse lived in another diocese, our Tribunal had to seek consent from the Tribunal of that diocese before we could start the case. Since December 2015, we no longer need to obtain that consent.
The second significant change in procedure is when our Tribunal reaches an affirmative decision of nullity, the decision no longer goes to another Tribunal for automatic review, as was required before December 2015. Eliminating automatic review has cut about two months off the length of time for an annulment case to be completed.
Third, Pope Francis allowed certain “clear-cut” cases to be done with a briefer process on the condition that both parties consented. Examples are a marriage that came about primarily because of a pregnancy, a marriage where one or both parties were not open to children, a marriage where a party did not commit to marriage for life and reserved divorce as an option, and the case of a party who did not intend to be faithful to his/her spouse.
The fourth significant change was the request of Pope Francis to eliminate the fee for cases if the Tribunal could afford to do so. Cardinal McElroy was happy to abide by this request.
With these changes, I also took the opportunity to revise and simplify our annulment petition form to make it as easy as possible for someone to submit a case for consideration by the Tribunal.
Director Noreen McInnes, Office for Liturgy and Spirituality
When Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope, in great humility, he likened himself to the portrait of the tax collector, Matthew, in the Caravaggio painting “The Calling of St. Matthew.” Matthew is portrayed, hunched over, grasping his coins, unaware that Jesus is pointing to him, beckoning him to come and follow Him. Pope Francis shared Matthew’s sense of undeserved mercy and reflected it in his motto, “miserando atque eligendo,” which roughly translates to “having mercy, He called him.”
Mercy, foundational in Pope Francis’ pontificate, led to him declaring 2015-2016 the Holy Year of Mercy. The Office for Liturgy supported the dedication of Holy Doors throughout the diocese as places of pilgrimage and promoted the sacrament of reconciliation for our diocese to fully embrace the Year of Mercy and all its benefits.
Pope Francis continued to advocate for mercy in his proclamation that the Church is a field hospital that must care for the sick, acknowledging that every one of us is sick. He emphasized that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” This became the underpinning for diocesan training for liturgical ministers. Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion are taught that the minister at Mass is not to determine the disposition of the communicant.
We also encourage ministry to the marginalized through workshops for Pastoral Care of the Sick. As St. Augustine taught, we become what we receive and therefore we receive the Body of Christ, to become the Body of Christ, to serve the Mystical Body of Christ.
We are particularly grateful to Pope Francis for appointing Cardinal McElroy to the Diocese of San Diego. The cardinal shows mercy to everyone he encounters. I can attest to it because I am a recipient of that undeserved mercy.
Appaswamy “Vino” Pajanor, Chief Executive Officer, Catholic Charities
During his public life in India, my father had the opportunity to interact with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta. So I was surprised by what he told me in what would become his last conversation with me before he died a week after Pope Francis was elevated: “This pope is going to make our Church more vibrant with the Holy Spirit, and a place filled with faith-in-action.” This became very real to me after experiencing Pope Francis’ influence on Catholic Charities’ work in our diocese.
In “Laudato Si’,” the pope urged everyone to work collectively without geographical boundaries, and to enhance the lives of others with a focus on equity and social justice. This call to action is in sync with what Christ calls us to do in Matthew 25, which is the mission of Catholic Charities.
Pope Francis, in a video greeting, called Catholic Charities the “salt, leaven, and light that provides a beacon of hope to those in need.” This energized our work in the diocese. Just in the last couple of years during the pandemic, we created the Emergency Food Distribution Network working with our parishes to feed the hungry, we added homeless shelters for women and men, we acquired hundreds of low-income housing units for seniors so they can spend their golden years with confidence, and we responded to the migrant crisis by welcoming the stranger with love and care, giving them hope.
Our team is constantly striving to do what the pope has asked us to do, “to be builders of the world, to work for a better world.”