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To see 'forgotten people' and stop injustice, Catholic leaders take Mass on the road

Carmen George, The Fresno Bee on

Published in Religious News

VISALIA, Calif. -- Bishop Armando Ochoa begins the Mass outside a building that resembles a large red barn. He carries a hooked staff covered in animal fur and wears moccasins and a leather sash -- a tribute to the nearby Tule River Tribe.

The recent service among old oak trees in Visalia's Mooney Grove Park was one of nine stops on a yearlong "mobile Mass" tour to rural communities in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno.

The clothing and location are unusual for the bishop, who normally celebrates Mass in the large, ornate St. John's Cathedral in downtown Fresno.

In Mooney Grove, he points out the beauty of a statue of a Native American warrior riding a horse and talks about how tribes in the central San Joaquin Valley have long considered the land here sacred -- and that he does, too.

This gesture is a nice surprise for Johnny Luna, a Native American listening to the bishop's homily.

"When he said that, I smiled," Luna says.

He says it "felt good" to hear because Native American history is seldom discussed or recorded.

The mobile Masses highlight local history and struggles facing people who are "sometimes forgotten or hidden from view," says Monsignor Raymond Dreiling, vicar general for the diocese.

It's also a way for the diocese to celebrate its 50th anniversary by getting back to its missionary roots. Clergy once preached to rural communities via "chapel cars."

Church leaders have revived that practice with a new mobile chapel -- a retrofitted trailer pulled by a truck. The words "siempre adelante" painted on its side mean "always forward" -- the motto of Saint Junipero Serra in the 1700s when he founded a string of Catholic missions in California.

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