San Bernardino Diocese first in U.S. to have two Hispanic Bishops; reflects changing face of Catholic Church

.- On Monday, the Vatican named a Riverside, CA priest to fill the position of auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of San Bernadino--a position which has been empty since 2003. His appointment makes the diocese the only one in the U.S. with two Hispanic bishops, reflecting what is perhaps the changing face of the American Church.

Bishop-elect Rutilio J. del Riego, who comes to the diocese from Our Lady of Perpetual Health in Riverside, now becomes one of 23 Hispanic bishops in the U.S., joining Bishop Gerald R. Barnes in ministering to the nearly 1.1 million member diocese--47% of whom are Hispanic.

Humble 64-year old del Riego said at a news conference that, "I have to be absolutely frank: I would not have asked for it…My life is going to change radically, and I was very happy where I was, doing what I was doing."

But, he added, "I believe God is calling me to do this, and so I have no excuse."

The bishop-elect, who holds dual citizenship in both the U.S. and Mexico says that building up future priests will be one of his major goals. He will move into a house near the diocese’ Blessed Junipero Serra House of Formation, which houses 12 seminarians, whom he hopes to spent time with.

A changing face

The San Bernardino Sun quoted Ronaldo Cruz, executive director of the Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who said that, "The face of the church is changing. More and more, the Hispanic context is important."

The Sun also cited the Hispanic Churches in American Public Life project, which suggests that about 70 percent of the 41 million Hispanic Americans are Catholic. It also noted however that, although Hispanics account for almost 40 percent of the nation's 67 million Catholics, they only make up about 8 percent of its leadership.

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput however, sees much positive growth for Hispanics and the Church.

Speaking at a retreat which gathered prominent Hispanic business leaders in the Colorado mountains last August, the Archbishop reflected that “Denver is 31 percent Hispanic…Colorado is now 17 percent Hispanic.  That’s a 73 percent growth in our Hispanic population in one decade.  All of America is changing, and Latinos will shape the nature of that change.”

But the change can be more far reaching than simply a matter of increasing numbers, suggested the Archbishop: “Hispanics can bring to the table a Catholic sense of family, a Catholic sense of community, a Catholic love for life, generosity and a respect for the dignity of the person.”

He exhorted the leaders to keep that identity at the center of their lives. “American life has lost its soul,” he said. “You can change that.  America needs to change.  Be different.  Remember who you are.  Remember the faith and Catholic understanding of the world that shaped you.  Make your success a success of the soul -- a success for the common good -- and you’ll leave the world a better place than when you entered it.”

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