Fr Robert Barron has been named as one of three new auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles by Pope Francis.
Known for his strong commitment to evangelisation, Fr Barron is the founder of the “global media ministry” Word on Fire, which produces programmes for WGN America, EWTN, Relevant Radio and YouTube, and is currently the rector of the University of St Mary and Mundelein Seminary in Chicago.
Writing on Word on Fire, Bishop-deisgnate Barron said the appointment came as “an enormous surprise”.
“It is with a humble and joyful heart that I accept it. The Church of Los Angeles—the most populous in the United States—is energetic, diverse, and creative,” he wrote.
“The late Francis Cardinal George—the spiritual grandfather of Word on Fire—was a mentor and friend to me. The mission closest to his heart was the evangelisation of the culture, bringing Christ to the arenas of media, politics, law, education, the arts, etc. I can’t think of a more exciting field for this sort of work than Los Angeles, which is certainly one of the great cultural centers of our time.”
Mgr Joseph Brennan, the vicar general and moderator of the Curia of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and Irish-born Mgr David O’Connell, pastor of Saint Michael Parish in Los Angeles,have also been made auxiliary bishops.
Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Los Angeles auxiliary bishop Gerald Wilkerson, who has now reached retirement age.
Bishop-designates Brennan, O’Connell and Barron are expected to be ordained bishops this autumn.
Los Angeles is the largest archdiocese in the country by population, with about 4.3 million Catholics. Headed by Archbishop Jose Gomez, the archdiocese currently has four active auxiliaries — Bishops Edward Clark, Thomas Curry, Oscar Solis and Alexander Salazar — and with Bishop Wilkerson’s retirement, there will be two retired auxiliaries; Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Sartoris retired in 2002. Archbishop Gomez’s predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony, retired in 2011.
Bishop-designate Brennan said the appointment arrived like “a punch in the stomach”. “I had an immediate gut reaction that my life was going to be very different. We make our plans, but God has other ideas,” he said.
Bishop-designate Brennan, who identifies mostly with his ministry as a pastor, has brought that pastoral sense to his role as vicar general. “It’s a laying down of your life on a daily basis,” he said. “I think this episcopacy will be the same.”
Bishop-designate Brennan said he, like Pope Francis, makes it a point to bring joy into his ministry.
“I try to bring a real sense of gratitude for the day,” he continued. “Even in the midst of difficult decisions and the problems and situations that need to be dealt with, without being flippant, I try to be joyful. I try to bring some humour to it.”
Bishop-designate O’Connell, who has been serving in parishes in south Los Angeles for more than 25 years, has ministered to communities that have suffered through gang violence and drugs.
“I do believe what’s really important is for us to be out in the neighbourhoods, to be out with the people,” he said, explaining that his parishes always did Posadas and Stations of the Cross in the neighbourhoods, not on Church grounds.
“How we can change south LA is to be out there and work with the people in the neighbourhoods,” he added. “I’ve always loved them. I’ve always loved being in these parishes.”
Bishop-designate O’Connell, who serves on the Archdiocesan Finance Council, works with community leaders and law enforcement on gang intervention efforts.