Three archbishops and nine bishops representing at least 13 million Catholics from Sacramento to Ensenada have resurrected their “Alta-Baja” friendship, paving the way to potentially working together in the future.
Los Angeles Archbishop José Gómez and Tijuana’s Archbishop Francisco Moreno Barrón had worked with their respective episcopal organizations for more than a year to coordinate a meeting of the two sides. Their efforts culminated in an “Encuentro de los Obispos de Alta y Baja California” on Oct. 30 at the San Diego Diocese.
The California Catholic Conference of Bishops organized the participants north of the border, which included San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and seven bishops.
The Conference’s president, Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto, chaired the meeting, and its vice president, San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, hosted the event, which ended with a dinner.
The Tijuana Archdiocese coordinated the participation of the bishops of Ensenada and Mexicali, as well as Tijuana’s retired archbishop.
The purpose of the six-hour meeting was for the leaders from one side of the border to meet their counterparts from the other, and see where the conversation took them. The bishops spoke candidly, often one elaborating on a point raised by one of their colleagues. They shared what was occurring in their individual dioceses regarding issues of common interest, such as immigration, NAFTA and Laudato Si, Pope Francis’s call to protect the environment.
Regarding immigration, the California bishops described how the Trump Administration’s executive orders had sowed fear in their dioceses as deportations increased.
For their part, the Baja California bishops said the surge in deported migrants arriving in their dioceses had further strained their resources.
By the end, the bishops committed to meeting next October, this time in Baja California, to explore ways they could work together to strengthen each other’s pastoral work.
“This was the resurrection of Alta-Baja,” said Archbishop Gómez, referring to the name of the group of bishops from both sides of the California-Mexico border that had met regularly until the early 2000’s, when they went their separate ways.
“Alta” (which means “higher” in Spanish) and “Baja” (“lower”) California were once one territory. In the 19th century, the vast area was governed first by Spain and then by Mexico. Alta California became part of the United States in the Treaty of Hidalgo of 1848, which ended the Mexican-American War.
Archbishop Gómez noted that when Pope Francis visited Mexico last year he urged the bishops there to step up their coordination with their U.S. counterparts, given that so many Latino Catholics live north of the border.
“I think it’s important to find new ways to help our people to grow in their spirituality and to grow in their missionary spirit,” Archbishop Gómez said.
Tijuana’s Archbishop Moreno Barrón said the most important outcome of the gathering was the opportunity to meet each other – and build from there.
“More than the words we exchanged were the attitudes we shared,” he said. “We did not know each other but we saw each other as brothers in faith.”
At the meeting, the Tijuana archbishop said he had recently attended a meeting of bishops from the Texas-Mexico border, known as Tex-Mex. He expressed the hope that a bishop from that organization could join next year’s meeting of the Alta-Baja bishops.
Archbishop Gómez participated in Tex-Mex during the five years he served in San Antonio. He’s familiar with the benefits and challenges of working on cross-border projects.
Archbishop Gómez said that people on both sides of the border are very faithful to the Church and share similar roots. “It’s important to learn from each other and to work together.”
The participants from California also included Bishops Michael Barber (Oakland), Gerald Barnes (San Bernardino), Richard Garcia (Monterey) Armando Ochoa (Fresno), and Auxiliary Bishops Alexander Salazar (Los Angeles) and John Dolan (San Diego).
From Baja California, Bishops José Isidro Guerrero Macias (Mexicali) and Rafael Valdéz Torres (Ensenada) participated, as well as Tijuana Archbishop Emeritus Rafael Romo Muñoz.