|Bishop Blaire Marks Decade in S.J.
By Jennifer Torres
December 14, 2008
[For a sample of other abuse-related news of Blaire's tenure, see Diocese to Pay $1M in Abuse Case and Did His Past Come Back to Haunt Him?]
STOCKTON - About 100 people were inside the gymnasium at downtown's St. Mary of the Assumption Church early this month, where Bishop Stephen Blaire led an evening service and invited those gathered to raise their own prayer requests.
They prayed for families who have lost their homes to foreclosure. They prayed for teens who use drugs or are involved in gangs. One woman asked to pray "for everyone who doesn't have a job, that they find one."
Blaire, installed in March 1999, is marking his 10th anniversary with a series of visits to parishes throughout the Roman Catholic Diocese of Stockton - each including a prayer service, followed by a question-and-answer session.
"I thank God for each of you," Blaire said in English and Spanish during the meeting at St. Mary's. "I've been privileged to be in the diocese of Stockton for 10 years."
When the bishop took charge of the church community that stretches over 10,000 square miles from Alpine to Stanislaus counties, he inherited a diocese shaken by revelations of sex-abuse and other crises.
Ten years later, the questions raised at his visit to St. Mary's touched on the economy and immigration. One woman questioned whether the diocese should proceed with its capital campaign while families are struggling to meet their own needs. Other recent immigrants asked how they could receive Catholic sacraments, revealing a church still confronting a broad range of challenges.
"I feel that I have been very blessed to have been assigned to this diocese," Blaire said in an interview last week. "We do always seem to have challenges going on. But I feel, if you trust in God, you can work through."
According to church data, there are about 217,000 Catholics in the diocese, a population that is both ethnically and economically diverse.
During his March 16, 1999, installation Mass, Blaire prayed in Portuguese, Spanish and Vietnamese.
He succeeded Donald Montrose as the fifth bishop of the Stockton Diocese, coming to the Central Valley from Los Angeles, where he served as a parish priest, an educator and eventually a regional bishop.
As in Los Angeles, Blaire has occasionally taken strong public stands on a number of issues.
In 2002, on the eve of a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, he urged a zero-tolerance discipline policy for priests and other religious workers who commit sexual abuse.
He has called for immigration reform that would keep families intact and allow immigrants already here a means of attaining legal status.
In October, he wrote an opinion piece supporting Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California.
And earlier this month, after a Modesto priest urged parishioners to go to confession if they voted for Barack Obama, a pro-choice candidate, Blaire released a public statement that said in part, "Determining the moral culpability of an individual Catholic who votes for a candidate with a pro-abortion record is a very complicated matter. ... We must always keep in mind the whole spectrum of life issues, weigh our decisions carefully, pray to God for guidance and make the best choices we can for the common good."
On a personal level, Blaire has won admiration for his interest in working and interacting with parishioners.
"I really love the way he works with people," said Carmen Flores, a member of St. Linus Church for 35 years.
"He has a very personal manner," said Angeles Munoz, a member of St. Mary of the Assumption. "He shows us new ways of teaching our children."
As his service in the diocese continues, Blaire said he hopes to work in cooperation with other churches and community groups to address the region's foreclosure crisis and improve the high school dropout rate. He also hopes to bolster the stability of Catholic schools in the diocese, which have struggled in recent years, and to work toward the goals of the diocesan synod, which include improving communication, supporting family unity, insuring financial transparency and promoting social justice.
"Please say a prayer for me once in a while," he asked those who came to meet with him at St. Mary's.
Bishop Stephen Blaire is marking his 10th anniversary at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Stockton with a series of "fireside chats" planned throughout the diocese.
Upcoming prayer and discussion sessions are planned for:
• Jan. 7 at St. Frances of Rome in Riverbank
• Jan. 27 at St. Joseph in Modesto
• Feb. 9 at St. Anne in Lodi
• Feb. 11 at St. Anthony in Manteca
The event each day starts with a gathering and refreshment time at 6:30 p.m. Prayer begins at 7 p.m., followed by a question-and-answer session.
Contact reporter Jennifer Torres at (209) 546-8252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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