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Catholic Voice
  July 15, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 13   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

Two vicars of Christ


Most Rev.
Michael C. Barber, SJ

The first.

On March 13, 2013, even before Jorge Bergolio came to the window as the new Pope Francis, there was great commotion and excitement in St. Peter's Square at the mere fact that a new pope had been elected. For 45 minutes — since the bells started pealing — there was much joy and elation that there was a new bishop of Rome. That joy has only grown since we have gotten to know him, Pope Francis: the successor of St. Peter, the servant of the servants of God, the Vicar of Christ on earth.

The second.

Six weeks and three days after his election, the Jesuit Pope Francis chose an unsuspecting Jesuit priest as bishop of Oakland. The Holy Father's signed "bull" (or mandate) was ceremonially displayed and read by the papal nuncio at my episcopal ordination. That was the official confirmation that the Vicar of Christ had personally made the selection. It was also confirmed to me in another way:

The day before my consecration I invited my brothers and two priest-friends to have breakfast at one of my favorite places: "Bette's Oceanview Diner" in Berkeley. (There's no view, but the pancakes are great. I have been going there for over 20 years.)

Roger and Bishop Barber at St. Columba's rectory.
Courtesy photo

While walking to the restaurant on Fourth Street we passed a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk with a tin can. He saw my Roman collar and asked for a donation. I noticed the rosary around his neck. He said he was Catholic and had attended Mass that very morning. I asked "Which church?" "St. Columba's" he replied. "Who said the Mass?" I asked. "Fr. Aidan" he replied. Knowing that my former student, Father Aidan McAleenan, was indeed the pastor there, I took out my wallet. The fellow looked at me closely and exclaimed "You're our new bishop! You're our new bishop!" (I was surprised he knew that we even had a new bishop — let alone that it was I, since I had just arrived and had not been ordained yet.)

All excited, he jumped up and down, gave me a hug — then reverently grasped my hand, bowed his head and asked for my blessing. I was moved, and I remembered the words of Jesus: "When you do it for one of these, the least of my brethren, you do it for me." (Matt. 25:40, emphasis mine) The man's name is Roger, and I had the pleasure of meeting him again two weeks later when Father Aidan invited me to celebrate a weekday morning Mass at St. Columba's.

Roger was a 'vicar of Christ' for me that day on Fourth Street. He was the first person I blessed as the new bishop of Oakland.

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