by Sr Ellen Hess VDMF

On Saturday, the 30th of January of this year, the Diocese of San José started the yearlong celebration of its founding 40 years ago with an opening Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace in Santa Clara. Due to the pandemic restrictions, the liturgy was held outdoors in front of the church. All were delighted with the beautiful sunshine after many days of storm and rain.

The Mass was presided by Bishop Oscar Cantú and concelebrated by Bishop Patrick McGrath and Bishop Carlos Sevilla, and many clergy and retired priests from the San José Diocese. It was indeed a catholic (universal) celebration, reflecting the existing and beautiful diversity and unity in the Diocese. A 4-person livestreaming crew enabled thousands in Silicon Valley and elsewhere to follow online.

The opening song, “Sumus Ecclesia – We Are the Church,” artfully reflected on this reality of being the people of God, his Body and Church, as we celebrate the 40 years of journeying together in hope.

Bishop Cantú’s opening remarks welcomed the symbolic breakthrough of sunshine amid clouds, storm, and rain, just as Christ and his Hope become visible and break through our fears and suffering “in the midst of a pandemic which has brought an economy on its knees, which has disrupted so many lives and circumstances.” Bishop Cantú was pleased that due to the recent expansion of gathering limits, many retired priests were able to be present together with a representation of local parish priests and parishioners.

The homily was given by Monsignor Michael Mitchell, one of the co-founders of the Diocese in 1981. He was the first employee of the new Diocese and was named the diocesan representative by Archbishop Quinn and Bishop DuMaine. Monsignor Mitchell recalled in his beautiful homily how they started very humble with a significant budget deficit but even a larger heart, full of hope and courage to journey forward. The parishes and their pastors were able to overcome those deficits and initial difficulties. They embraced the change of the Valley over the past 40 years, which he illustrated by showing us the change in demographics of the parishes.

He quoted the great English Saint Cardinal Newman: “To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often.” He explained how he witnessed the parishes become more multi-cultural and ethnically diverse, which is also reflected in the change of surnames of the clergy ministering in the Diocese. Monsignor read a sample of Italian/Irish/English clergy surnames of those ministering at the beginnings of the Diocese. The clergy now ministering in those positions have Latino/Vietnamese/Filipino surnames, thus reflecting the new demographics and the diocesan openness to ongoing change.

He also pointed to our Forefather Abraham (first reading), who set out from his ancestral home to journey forward and wander the Middle East to fulfill God’s command and desire. Monsignor’s conclusion was that independent of whether we are an individual or a corporate diocese, God’s will requires ongoing openness to change: “Only God’s call is constant – and consistent, only circumstances change.”

Monsignor referred to the Gospel, where the disciples on the way to Emmaus were faced with the challenge of understanding the cross when their conventional way of believing was crushed by the way Jesus died. These events required them to change to engage in a dialogue with Jesus and to change their mindset. Just so, Monsignor reminded all we are called to dialogue and gradually come to understand the challenge posed by the suffering and grief of the current pandemic.

The celebration ended with thanksgiving by Bishop Cantú to his fellow bishops, priests, parishioners, and especially to the community of Our Lady of Peace, which hosted this special event with so much love and generosity.

We look forward to more celebrations during this Jubilee year, with a grateful heart for God’s grace and blessings that have flourished in this Diocese of San José.