Oakland in 2013, a place of hope and blessing
Michael C. Barber, SJ
It's easy to get discouraged when you live in Oakland in 2013. A few blocks from where I reside, a young man working as a waiter had his face bashed in with a hammer for trying to protect his restaurant from a rampant mob. A mother lost her 3-year-old baby boy in a drive-by shooting. Our cathedral was tagged with graffiti — defaced like many of our inner-city churches, rectories and schools. Wounds on the people of God. Scars on the House of God. Yes, it's easy to get discouraged.
Then we read in Isaiah: "I am the Lord, your God ... Fear not, I will help you." And "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light." And "Lift up your heads and see, your salvation is near at hand."
And so it is. Keep looking around:
On Dec. 7 I walked at the head of a great procession of 5,000 devout Catholics, mostly Latinos, on a seven-mile pilgrimage through the heart of Oakland to honor the Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Five thousand people: young and old, with 18 floats built on the back of flatbed trucks with statues of Mary and flowers and singing and dancers and flag waving.
The line of faithful stretched for blocks. I felt as if I were at the head of a great army of God. As we passed through the roughest part of the city, along International Boulevard, people came out of their homes and stores (all with bars on the windows) asking me "What's this for?" I said "It's for Mary. The mother of Jesus." "Hallelujah!" one African American woman exclaimed with a smile.
Hail Mary, full of grace!
The next day I had the pleasure of rededicating St. Columba Church together with a packed congregation and a beaming pastor. Father Aidan McAleenan and his parishioners had just completed months of renovation: a new altar, a new baptismal font, a huge beautiful new crucifix, new flooring, fresh paint — everything. The signing, decoration and liturgy were distinctly African American — which is to say full of soul and joyful expression. And it's almost all paid for!
A child is born for us. A Son is given to us.
Every Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m. a group of dedicated volunteers from Catholic Worker Berkeley serves breakfast to the homeless at People's Park and then at City Hall plaza. These wonderful successors of Dorothy Day get up before 5 a.m. to cook the oatmeal, make the coffee, boil the eggs and get everything set up. You should see the smiles on the men's and women's faces as they come through the line after sleeping out all night in the rough.
Comfort, comfort my people!
And there are so many many other examples of life and growth and love and mercy going on every day in our great Diocese of Oakland. It is true what the Scriptures say about the newborn Christ: "All peoples will be blessed in Him. All nations will serve Him." Oakland in 2013 is not a place of discouragement, but of hope and blessing. Thank you my brothers and sisters for showing the world that the Savior reigns.
Merry Christmas to you and your families!
back to top