Mexican-Born Bishop Alberto Rojas Chosen to Lead the Diocese of San Bernardino

Bishop Gerald Barnes, left, places a pin with the words ‘Diocese of San Bernardino’ on Bishop Alberto Rojas, an auxiliary bishop of Chicago, who is set to lead the diocese after his anticipated retirement. RNS photo by Alejandra Molina

Bishop Alberto Rojas has been named to lead the Diocese of San Bernardino — one of the nation’s largest Roman Catholic dioceses — and will succeed Bishop Gerald Barnes, who plans to submit his resignation in June.

Pope Francis appointed Rojas, an auxiliary bishop from Chicago, to be coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of San Bernardino. As coadjutor, Rojas will assist Barnes in administering the diocese in the months leading to his retirement.

Under church law, Roman Catholic bishops are required to submit their letter of resignation to the pope on their 75th birthday. Once Pope Francis accepts Barnes’ resignation, Rojas will assume the role of bishop.

At a Monday (Dec. 2) press conference, Barnes — who has held his post for more than two decades — introduced Rojas as his successor. Rojas will be the third bishop of the Diocese of San Bernardino, which serves Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Rojas, who was born in Aguascalientes, Mexico, said it was always his faith journey to become a priest and bishop. He addressed a crowd of diocesan leaders in English and Spanish during the announcement.

“All of you have so much to teach me,” he said.

Rojas praised Barnes, who has pushed the church to embrace immigration reform, for being a champion of immigrants. He said his father worked hard in the U.S. and eventually gained residency for himself and his family.

“Even though I’ve lived most of my life in this country, I can easily identify with the experience of immigrants because I believe I am among them,” said Rojas, 54.

He hopes to follow in Barnes’ footsteps in advocating for immigrants.

“We will continue with that pastoral presence of the church. … Looking for common ground and just immigration solutions,” he added.

Rojas will be taking over a diocese that has experienced significant growth in recent years. In 2014 the diocese reported 1.5 million Catholics, said John Andrews, spokesman for the diocese. Today it has grown to 1.7 million Catholics.

The region’s Catholic population is largely Latino, but Mass in the diocese has been celebrated in more than 10 languages, including English, Spanish, Tongan, Korean, Igbo and Indonesian. Priests have been white, Asian and Pacific Islander, Latino and black.

Barnes said he collected input from people across the diocese to hear what kind of bishop they would like as a leader. He said it was important for the diocese to have a pastoral person who was bilingual and “accepting of the diversity” of the area. Additionally, Barnes said he hoped his successor would be someone young who would be “open to the realities of the time, loyal to the church and inclusive of people.”

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Source: Religion News Service