“Everything is Hispanic ministry”: interview with Bishop Alberto Rojas

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Washington— Bishop Alberto Rojas of San Bernardino, California, gave an opening address and participated in the opening mass of “Raíces y Alas: Prophetic Voices: Ser Puentes en Una Nueva Época” organized by the National Catholic Council for Hispanic ministry. The April 26-30 conference was held in Crystal City, Va., with an advocacy component at the nation’s Capitol.

Rojas was first a priest in Chicago, then an auxiliary bishop in Chicago. Two years ago he was appointed bishop of San Bernardino, where he says he tried to learn in service which was difficult during the pandemic. But, he’s happy to say, “we’ve been innovative.”

NCR was able to chat with Rojas after an immigration advocacy day on the Hill and discuss some of the conference themes.

NCR: What does Hispanic ministry look like in your diocese right now?

Rojas: Everything is Hispanic ministry. Each parish is bilingual. The diocese is at least 70% Hispanic. There is no parish where Spanish is not necessary. It is probably one of the most diverse dioceses in the country. It has a large population and continues to grow. The bishop before me who retired told me that in the last 10 years the diocese has doubled in size, which means almost a million Catholics.

It is very beautiful at the same time because there are many people who are attached to their faith. The churches are full, even now, after the pandemic. They come back.

What impact has the pandemic had on Hispanic ministry?

When we decided to close the churches, many people were so sad. We got all kinds of angry letters saying they expected a lot of things to close but not the church because that was when they needed it the most. We understood that very well. But at the same time, we didn’t want to put them in danger and a lot of people didn’t understand that — even imposing on them or suggesting very strongly not to take communion in the mouth or not to shake hands or use The mask .

That’s why sometimes it’s so hard with a lot of people: they think if it’s about God, you’re not going to get sick. Many times I tried to explain, yes, God will protect you, but that God also gave you intelligence.

Many people have become accustomed to watching Mass online. Some are afraid to come back. But many of them are back. With the vaccines and all that, a lot of people were less scared.

Fear is the worst. I’ve said it many times, it’s dangerous and we have to be careful, but I hope your fear isn’t worse than the pandemic. Even if the pandemic or virus won’t go away, at least we know how to deal with it.

How did it feel to be at the conference?

The defense of immigration is only one element among others. But there is much more [issues] like these in this Congress. The focus will now be on young people as one of the priorities. The other is family and the other is social justice.

I brought about 10 people from the Diocese of San Bernardino, most of them young people, and they are all involved in different ministries – some with young adults, immigration and pro-life. Conventions are very important to us because that is where we are empowered and encouraged.

Hopefully we will continue to meet and find some hope in the strength of our people – for immigrants, the wider community and other communities as well.


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