A number of Fresno faith leaders, including Bishop Armando Ochoa of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, reflected Monday on Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S., a trip Ochoa said “brought the “immigrant, the person on death row, the family that suffers from an economic culture of exclusion into focus, confident that we may see and hear their cry for help.”
“Like our drought-stricken Valley anticipates its first sip of seasonal rainfall, our Holy Father quenched the deeper thirst of many souls with life-giving words of love, compassion, mercy, and yes, justice,” Ochoa said during a morning news conference inside St. Anne’s Chapel at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in central Fresno.
Ochoa was among more than half a dozen clergy from the diocese to attend now-Saint Junípero Serra’s canonization Mass in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 23. Ochoa’s schedule only permitted him to attend the canonization, but the diocese also had representatives present as Pope Francis addressed Congress, the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families and a gathering in Philadelphia the Vatican called a “meeting for religious liberty with the Hispanic community and other immigrants.”
Those who made time to listen with the ears of their hearts now celebrate this message that gives voice to the weak, the vulnerable, and the underserved among us.
Bishop Armando Ochoa
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Delia Del Rio, an organizer at St. Anthony Mary Claret Catholic Church in southeast Fresno, was among a group from Fresno’s Faith in Community who listened to Pope Francis speak in Philadelphia over the weekend.
“As an immigrant, I heard Pope Francis say that we deserve a dignified life and that we also should fulfill our responsibility as a part of this country,” Del Rio said. “We cannot be embarrassed or ashamed of our roots. Pope Francis saw me as his sister and he is concerned about my needs. He wants me to fight for my freedom and wants me to be heard working to give a voice to those who don’t have a voice.”
Ochoa said it will be interesting to see “the Francis effect” – how people will respond and take action on the pope’s message after the “honeymoon” period of his visit wanes.
He said the pope shared his confidence that we are “capable of adjusting our priorities to heal the damages (to the environment) inflicted by the human family” and that regarding the plight of many immigrants, “he challenged people on both sides of the aisle to make every concerted effort to see what we can do to bring those people out of the shadows.”
Locally, Ochoa said diocese leaders will “continue to really push for new immigration laws.”
And regarding those within the LGBT community, Ochoa said it’s important to “be open to those on the outside margins – the underserved of our community.”
The pope’s messages are bound to take some people “aback,” he said, but added prophets throughout time have always made the comfortable “a little less comfortable” while bringing more help to those hurting the most.
Ochoa said he hopes the “seeds of love, compassion, mercy and justice planted during this phenomenal week with Pope Francis will produce an abundant harvest.”
Toward that goal, Ochoa is encouraging parishes across the Fresno diocese to host gatherings to talk about Pope Francis’ message – a campaign that has been dubbed the “Year of the Encounter with Pope Francis.” The diocese is utilizing resource material available through PICO (Faith in Community and Faith in the Valley falls under the umbrella of this national group), created in collaboration with the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, to help with that.
Ochoa was especially touched by the way Pope Francis addressed a person who had been sexually abused by the Catholic Church, who told the pope because of that abuse, his now-deceased mother had become an atheist.
“Without skipping a beat, our Holy Father looked him in the eye and said something to the effect of, ‘You know, I can imagine God welcoming your mother into heaven.’ ”
Ochoa said that message can be translated this way: Let’s continue to build God’s kingdom to help people and “let’s not point a finger because every time we point a finger, we have three pointing right back at us.”
More from Philadelphia
A delegation from Faith in Community, including Jim Grant, director of social justice ministry for the Diocese of Fresno, kicked off a busy weekend in Philadelphia by attending a Saturday morning meeting with a top adviser to the pope: Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice. Turkson addressed around 300 PICO delegates during the group’s “Faith Matters in America” summit.
Thomas Weiler, lead organizer with Faith in Community, was especially touched by the importance the cardinal placed on “investing and contributing to restorative justice” instead of mass incarceration, and to help give a voice to the “excluded” of society.
“This is why we are bringing people who have been marginalized and voiceless in our city together to attempt to name the vision for inclusion, dignity and justice for all that God aspires for Fresno,” Weiler said.
My life has been transformed through this message of equality and fraternity with all people as children of God.
Delia Del Rio
Hearing the pope speak on Saturday and Sunday in Philadelphia was also powerful.
Pastor D.J. Criner of Saint Rest Baptist Church in southwest Fresno reflected on the pope’s words about American triumphs – things like the abolition of slavery and the growth of the labor movement – and how there is still more work to be done for social justice.
“Think about this: ‘I believe racism’s strongest ally is forgetfulness,” Criner said. “If we fail to remember, we will fail to defeat racism.”
Grant said the pope’s message foremost is a call to act and that inspiration will come “more by what he is and does than what he says.”
Hear the pope and get involved
Watch the pope: Bishop Armando Ochoa says people can tune into KNXT Catholic Television this week for rebroadcasts of the pope’s visit.
Talk about his visit: The community will have an opportunity to talk about Pope Francis’ visit during a “mayoral vision gathering” at 6 p.m. Oct. 22 at Westside Church of God, 1422 W. California Ave., Fresno. Thomas Weiler, lead organizer with Faith in Community, said the meeting will address this question: “How are we crafting a vision for what is going to make our city an inclusive place that values the dignity of every person here?”