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The Story Behind the New LA Bishops’ Pectoral Crosses

Pectoral cross. Credit: Angelus New.

– A sharp eye would have noticed that L.A.’s three auxiliary bishops-elect were wearing identical pectoral crosses.

The pectoral crosses are identical to another bishop’s — the Bishop of Rome.

“They are Pope Francis bishops,” Archbishop José H. Gomez said in the sacristy of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels after the July 21 press conference. “They were a gift,” he added, explaining with a gesture that he’d given the pectoral crosses to the bishops-elect himself.

In many ways, the new shepherds reflect the Holy Father’s papacy.

Pope Francis has named Father Robert Barron, Msgr. Joseph V. Brennan and Msgr. David O’Connell as auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The new auxiliary bishops will join Archbishop Gomez, other auxiliary bishops, priests and deacons in serving the faithful of the largest archdiocese in the United States.

“I believe each of these new auxiliary bishops will help us in our mission here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles — the beautiful mission we have of sharing the love of God and the message of Jesus Christ and promoting human dignity and mercy and justice in our society,” Archbishop Gomez said during the press conference.

“I know all three of our new bishops and I could not be happier,” the archbishop said.

Msgr. Brennan has served as vicar general and moderator of the curia of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles since 2013. “He is my vicar general and moderator of the curia, which means he is kind of like a ‘CEO’ and ‘COO,’” the archbishop said. “It’s a big job and Msgr. Brennan handles it with grace and true concern for people’s needs. He is a good man and a thoughtful leader.”

He also never aspired to be anything but a pastor. In an interview with The Tidings, Msgr. Brennan said that he’d hoped one day he could return to being a pastor at parish, but with this appointment, it seems unlikely.

“In this position I’ve felt from the beginning that what I have — in fact all I have — to bring is the pastoral sense,” he said. “I don’t have the degrees, I don’t have the training. It’s pastoral experience that’s been the highlight of my life so far.”

So too with Pope Francis — a pontiff who never aspired to be such and who’s message had renewed the call for priests “to be shepherds living with the smell of their sheep.”

“Msgr. O’Connell is a native of Ireland and has served the inner city and South Central L.A.,” the archbishop explained. “He is also a dedicated pastor with a great concern for the spiritual life of the faithful.”

Msgr. O’Connell is a leader on issues like immigration reform, education, unemployment, housing, violence and finding alternatives to gangs for young people, the archbishop said.

Bishop-elect O’Connell’s emphasis on the poor is akin to Pope Francis’ — both as a priest and bishop in Argentina, but also now at the Vatican. Like Bishop-elect Brennan, O’Connell was perplexed by his appointment as auxiliary bishop.

“Maybe Pope Francis was looking for a certain profile, and I guess I do have some of the characteristics of what he’s looking for,” he admitted. “From what he’s writing and what he’s doing and what he’s teaching us, I suppose I do have some of those characteristics, yeah.”

As a member of the the Together in Mission Board as well as the Archdiocesan Finance Council, he insists on financial responsibility. And as a pastor, he made sure his parish held events like the Stations of the Cross and Las Posadas in the community, not on church grounds.

Father Barron has served as rector of Mundelein Seminary and president of University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois, since 2012. His “Catholicism” TV series and his Word on Fire media ministry are hallmarks of the New Evangelization.

“He is also the author of many books and has an important online media ministry. He has even had a television series on PBS about the beauty of the Catholic faith and God’s plan for creation,” the archbishop said. “So I think God has sent him to the right place — the media capital of the world.”

Father Barron is second only to Pope Francis as the most-followed Catholic leader on social media.

“‘I very much identify with Pope Francis’ call for the New Evangelization, which is very much a continuation of the call that began with St. John Paul II and continued through Benedict,” Father Barron said.

“For a long time, what I’ve tried to do in my own work is lead with the positive, lead with the joyful, lead with the articulation of the life,” he said.

It is clear, the archbishop said, that Pope Francis understands the needs of the Church, both in Los Angeles and across the United States.

“In the Catholic Church, we believe that every bishop is ordained to carry on the mission that Jesus gave to his apostles,” the archbishop said.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles comprises 8,762 square miles in Southern California. It has a total population of 11,518,233 people, of whom 4,362,469, or 38 percent, are Catholic. It is the largest diocese by Catholic population in the United States. The archdiocese has four other active auxiliary bishops and two other retired ones.

This story originally ran on L.A.’s Angelus News.