As We See It: Diocese of Monterey Names First Mexican-American As Bishop

Santa Cruz Sentinel [Monterey CA]
December 20, 2006

It has often been said that the Roman Catholic Church moves slowly, befitting its 2,000 years in existence.

Shifts must be examined in perspective and historical context, and a single decision can reverberate throughout many believers' lives.

That's why the announcement Tuesday that Bishop Richard J. Garcia had been named new Bishop of the Diocese of Monterey is more than just "church news."

The diocese — which comprises the counties of Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito and San Luis Obispo — is getting its first Mexican-American leader and the church in California only its second Hispanic bishop.

Garcia, currently auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento, will replace Bishop Sylvester Ryan, who is retiring. Ryan, 76, was appointed bishop of Monterey in 1992.

Ryan has been a popular, pastoral leader. He has been the public face of the regional church through triumphs and even the priest sex-abuse scandals, and his open and genial personality has graced many public events in this county. His commitment to education was demonstrated for Santa Cruz County Catholics with his leadership and fundraising that made Watsonville's St. Francis high school a reality, even when many doubted a Catholic high school could ever again succeed here.

Ryan, who also speaks Spanish, noted that Garcia's heritage and his fluency in Spanish will give him "deep empathy and motivation to serve the unique multicultural Catholic populations that exist in all of our California dioceses and archdioceses."

Garcia spoke in both Spanish and English on Tuesday at his introduction as new bishop. With so many Catholics in cities and towns such as Watsonville of Mexican heritage, to have a bishop who speaks their language and might have a special understanding of their place and struggles in Central Coast communities, this appointment will certainly be welcomed as a potential Godsend.

While Ryan will certainly be missed, the 59-year-old Garcia will shepherd a diocese of some 195,000. His experience gives a clue that he will continue the pastoral ministry Ryan demonstrated. Ordained in 1973, he has served as parish priest and pastor in San Francisco and in the Diocese of San Jose. He has been an auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Sacramento since 1998.

Garcia sees this new position as his time "to grow into what God set in motion in my life a long time ago." Garcia said he plans to be active in reaching out to people behind prison walls and to migrant farmworkers.

Garcia will be installed as new bishop on Jan. 30 at a Mass presided over by Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles.

The challenges for the new bishop will be many, with issues such as poverty, the status of illegal immigrants, a continuing shortage of priests amid a growing church and bridging the sometimes considerable gap between the Anglo church and the Latino church needing attention and leadership.

Still, his appointment heralds a new beginning in a season where hope is celebrated.


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