San Bernardino Catholics Respond, After a Day of Horror

Bishop Gerald Barnes led a candlelight vigil at a local stadium for the victims, who included the husband of a Catholic school principal, while Deacon Mike Belinder gave thanks that his daughter was spared.

(photo: Getty Images)

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — Bishop Gerald Barnes of the Diocese of San Bernardino, Calif., participated in a candlelight vigil at San Manuel Stadium in San Bernardino Dec. 3 in response to the murder of 14 people and wounding of 21 others by Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik on Dec. 2. In a prepared statement, he invited the public to join him in praying for the victims and for the protection of those in law enforcement responding to the shootings.

The bishop was participating in a day of prayer with clergy at a diocesan parish when the shooting occurred. He was not yet taking interviews, said diocesan communications director John Andrews, but “he appeared quite shaken and concerned.”

Since the shooters had fled the scene of the massacre and were initially at large, the chancery was closed for the reminder of the week. Andrews explained, “They could have been anywhere, and with a large public facility like our pastoral center, we didn’t want to put our employees in danger.”

The chancery staff subsequently discovered that one of the victims was Damian Meins, husband of Trenna Meins, principal of Sacred Heart Parish School in Rancho Cucamonga.

The Diocese of San Bernardino encompasses Riverside and San Bernardino Counties in southern California. It is home to 1.6 million Catholics, 54 diocesan priests and 92 churches.

The city has had its challenges in recent years, including a municipal bankruptcy, a spike in the crime rate and an economic slowdown. Andrews noted, “We’ve had our struggles, but it’s shocking to be hit with something of this magnitude. As a Church, we’ll be looking for ways to reach out and see how we can help each other get through this.”


‘Dad, I Love You’

Deacon Mike Bellinder, a Redlands resident who was ordained for the San Bernardino Diocese nine years ago, described the day of the shooting as “the longest day of my life.” His adult daughter, Colleen, works at the Inland Regional Center, the site of the massacre.

He was home sick in bed, when his daughter texted him “Dad, I love you.” He turned on the news, and “I realized my daughter was in a life-threatening situation. It was a shock.”

For an hour or more, he was unaware of her status. He himself had been seriously wounded in a robbery 20 years before, and his daughter’s situation revived vivid memories of the terror he’d experienced. He said, “I went emotionally ballistic. I wept and cried out to Our Lord, ‘Don’t let anything happen to her.’”

His prayer was answered. She had been in a separate building that the shooters had not entered. The family was reunited that evening, but it wasn’t until the following day that Colleen realized the gravity of the situation. He said, “She started crying. She realized how close she’d come to dying.”

Jose Barr, a law enforcement officer and a Grand Knight for the local Knights of Columbus council in Redlands, had a different reaction. He was home recovering from a surgery and wished he could have been on site to assist his four partners who responded to the shooting. He said, “I needed to do something. I’m trained to respond.”

His parish, Holy Name of Jesus, is one of the closest Catholic parishes to where the shooters were killed. There is still disbelief in the community that such violence occurred so close to home: “People want to know how and why it happened.”

He believes the Church should be a resource in offering counseling to those traumatized by the shooting. He’s also grateful to his fellow law enforcement officers for stopping the shooters before more people could be killed: “Law enforcement responded quickly and appropriately. Thank God we were there and ready.”

Web Prather, 75, a Eucharistic minister at Holy Name, added that “there was an anxiety on our part” that one of the parish family was killed or injured in the shootings. As a Vietnam veteran, he is no stranger to violence. He noted, “I’ve lived through a lot, and I’ve come to realize that evil exists in the world. But it was scary to have it happen so close to home.”


Militant Islam

Authorities are investigating whether or not Farook and Malik’s embrace of militant Islam was the motive behind the shootings. Deacon Bellinder, however, says it will not create hostility in him towards Muslims. In fact, two days after the shooting, he participated in an interfaith prayer service at a Redlands Islamic center. He said, “I told them that I had a daughter directly affected by trauma, and I know that the Islamic community is experiencing the same trauma as we did. I said I bring our peace and prayers.”

William Kilpatrick, a Catholic writer who has written for the Register and other publications on Islam, offered another perspective, wondering if a different public mindset might have prevented the shootings. He pointed to a report by Los Angeles KNX 1070 news radio that a neighbor had observed several Middle-Eastern people at the shooters’ apartment and that they had received many package deliveries. The report said she didn’t report it to authorities, for fear of being accused of racially profiling.

Kilpatrick said, “Thanks to groups like CAIR [Council on American-Islamic Relations] and their sympathizers in the media, people have been conditioned to look the other way.”

He compared the incident to that of 14-year-old “Clock Boy” Ahmed Mohamed of Texas, “who was acting suspiciously at school and was turned into a celebrity hero by the media, while those who reported and detained him were cast as bigoted villains.”

Mohamed’s family is now suing for $15 million in damages.

Kilpatrick continued, “So, on the one hand, the media purport to be horrified by the killings, but on the other hand, they have created an atmosphere in which citizens are afraid to take actions that might have prevented the massacre.”

Jim Graves writes from Newport Beach, California.

Editor's note: This article was corrected, after initial publication, to state that Bishop Gerald Barnes participated in a candlelight vigil, not a Mass, at San Manuel Stadium in San Bernardino on Dec. 3.