WASHINGTON, D.C. — Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of San Bernardino, California, and Coadjutor Bishop Alberto Rojas immediately succeeds him.
Barnes has headed the diocese since 1996. In June, he turned 75, the age at which canon law requires bishops to turn their resignation into the pope.
Rojas had been an auxiliary bishop of the Chicago Archdiocese since 2011 when Pope Francis named him as coadjutor for San Bernardino Dec. 3, 2019. The Mexican-born bishop relocated to California’s Inland Empire diocese, as it’s known, in February.
Barnes’s resignation was announced in Washington Dec. 28 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
In a Dec. 28 statement, Rojas said he would “like to build on the momentum that is clearly present” in the diocese and would not make any “big changes right away.”
“There is no doubt, when looking at the events of this past year, that I am coming to lead the diocese at a very challenging time,” he said, but he added that he has already witnessed the strong and committed faith of the diocesan Catholics.
He said in his years of ministry, in the seminary and as a priest and bishop in Chicago, he encountered many new challenges but he “always trusted in God’s plan for me to serve his church, and that he will give me all that I need to do his work.”
Rojas was born Jan. 5, 1965, in Aguascalientes, Mexico. He studied for the priesthood at St. Maria de Guadalupe Seminary in Aguascalientes and then moved to Chicago and continued seminary studies at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1997. After his ordination, he served as associate pastor at three Chicago parishes until Pope Benedict XVI named him a Chicago auxiliary June 13, 2011. He also served on the seminarian formation faculty of Mundelein Seminary from 2002 to 2009.
On the national level, Rojas has had a number of key assignments on committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, including Hispanic affairs, liturgy, Catholic home missions and with V Encuentro.
In an interview with the Chicago Catholic prior to his assignment at the San Bernardino Diocese, he said if he learned one thing in his eight years as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Chicago, it was to trust in the Holy Spirit.
“It’s the Holy Spirit that leads us,” he said. “It’s not based on our own capabilities. It’s God working through us.”
That’s what Cardinal Francis E. George told him back in 2011.
“He told me that at the beginning, we are all nervous,” Rojas said, recalling an early morning meeting at the cardinal’s residence, four years before the cardinal died. “No bishop knows everything. We all learn as we go. And everything he said was true. God works with us through our weaknesses. You just have to say yes.”
The bishop said he learned about being a priest and bishop from George and Cupich and he said he was grateful to both of them.
The San Bernardino Diocese, founded in 1978, stretches from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on the north to the Diocese of San Diego on the south and from the California border with Arizona and Nevada on the east to the Diocese of Orange on the west.
It is the nation’s sixth largest diocese.
“I didn’t know how big it was until after I said yes,” Rojas said after his initial appointment to the California diocese.
Barnes, in a Dec. 28 statement, thanked diocesan Catholics for their prayers, support and constructive criticism over the years. He said the diocese thrives because of the “tremendous faith, creativity and energy of you, the people of God.”
He added that as he moves into retirement he hoped that Rojas would “experience the joy, the faith and the hope that our diocese has to offer” and that Catholics in the diocese will “continue to impact family, neighborhood and society with the Gospel so that people’s lives are filled with hope.”