USD Student Perspective: "Why I Remain Catholic" by Angel Ibarra

USD's Center for Catholic Thought and Culture held an event in April titled, "Why I Remain: Catholics and the Clerical Sexual Abuse Crisis." Angel Ibarra, a graduate student in the Kroc School's Masters of Peace and Justice program, shared his testimony of why he remains Catholic despite the present scandal in the Church. Below is the transcript of the talk he gave.

Why I Remain

By Angel Ibarra

I would like to start this conversation and my role in it by saying that this topic is difficult for all of us. I am not about to give arguments in favor of staying in the Church or leaving, as that is a very personal choice and one that you may have already been wrestling with. What I will attempt to do is to speak intelligently on why I made the personal choice to remain in the Church. This personal reflection is not intended to persuade you one way or the other, but to give you something to consider in prayer and meditation.

I would first like to speak a little bit about what the Church has meant to me throughout my life.  Growing up in a single parent household was difficult in many ways, especially financially. I grew up in the Westside of Denver, a neighborhood that was then and continues to be even today full of violence and poverty.  A son of Mexican immigrants, schooling was limited to failing public schools in our mainly Hispanic immigrant neighborhood, and a small Catholic School, St. Rose of Lima. Through the grace of God, my mother fought to get my siblings and I into St. Rose and through the help of scholarships we were able to have what so few of the children in our neighborhoods had — a quality education that taught us our inherent dignity and that of all people.  

My formative years at St. Rose were what you would expect from growing up in a small knit Catholic school. We were involved in CYO sports, participated in school liturgies and always looked forward to the next stage in life.  Looking back, our experience at St. Rose was enhanced by the loving and supportive teachers, administrators and priests who taught us to love God, ourselves and one another, a lesson that was hard to learn, but has stuck with me all these years.  

I later went on to graduate from a prestigious Catholic high school and earn a full ride scholarship to The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC where I was able to continue to cultivate my faith through service.  My time at Catholic University showed me the immense power that the Church had in developing leaders who were formed by the social justice teachings of the Church and who would be advocates for the poor and marginalized. Through it all, there were many obstacles, but the thing that remained firm in my life was the Church and her message of love and compassion.  My understanding of social justice comes from these early stages of my life, where based on statistics of the zip code I grew up in, I should have never graduated from high school, much less made it to where I am now. I am who I am today because the Church (and by Church I mean my lay teachers, staff and priests of my schooling) saw the God-given potential in me and made sacrifices to ensure I grew to be who God created me to be.

After college, knowing that so much had been given to me, I knew that I had to give back in some way.  I joined the Alliance for Catholic Education at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and worked and studied full time as a second grade teacher in a Catholic school located in Philadelphia’s inner city.  Here I gained a new understanding of the gift of my own education, as I experienced what my teachers must have experienced all those years before: low wages, difficult kids and neighborhoods, exhaustion… but I also experienced the love and grace the Church provides, not through priests and bishops, but by lay men and women and religious sisters who give so much for the betterment of society and all out of love. My time at St. Martin of Tours showed me the power we the Church have in transforming societies and providing quality dignified services to all who come to us.  

The love of justice that I experienced through the Church prompted me to come to USD and study Peace and Justice at the Kroc School of Peace studies.  Through my studies on creating more just societies, the core concepts of Catholic social teaching, the inherent dignity and respect of every human person, lay at the heart of what we work towards as peacebuilders.  Nowhere else is this more evident, for me, than in the work of the Church throughout the world.

In a local context, I am lucky in that I get to experience the Church’s love for peace and justice every day in my position as Director of Social Outreach and Advocacy with Mission San Luis Rey parish.  My role at the parish is to provide direct services to the poor, homeless and immigrants throughout our Oceanside community. Every day, people come to my office because there is nowhere else for them to go. They are hungry, on the verge of eviction, stressed… we are able to be the hands of Christ in providing a helping hand with many resources and financial assistance.  Not only do I experience the Church as an employee, but also with my team of 50+ volunteers who work tirelessly to serve their neighbors in need. That to me is the Church.

About 800 years ago, on the edge of Assisi, St. Francis heard the command to “rebuild my Church, which is in ruins.” I don’t know that the Church is in ruins today, but the present situation feels more like it than anything.  But there is hope, and for me the hope lies with the laity. When I moved to San Diego I joined the parish in my neighborhood here in Hillcrest, St. John the Evangelist. The overwhelming sense of community and inclusion I have found at St. John’s is another grace that I would like to talk about.  St. John’s is probably best known for our LGBT ministry, a social group of LGBT Catholics who meet regularly for prayer and discussion. These are men who love the Church so much that they are brought to tears recounting the pain and suffering inflicted by years of hate and exclusion coming from Church leaders and teachings. Some are even former church employees who have lost their jobs because of their sexual orientation.  To see the witness of these men and women returning to the Church that they so deeply love and now feel accepted by gives me hope that the Church is changing, and that we, young and lay Catholics need to be the change we want to see in our Church.

A couple of weeks ago at Holy Thursday services, during the exposition of the blessed sacrament we prayed a song that said,

Stay with me, Remain here with me, Watch and pray, watch and pray

I remember sitting in the Old Mission San Luis Rey church that night listing off all the things I had to accomplish in the next few weeks, and starting to agonize about giving this talk.  I didn’t know what I would say, what I wanted to say. But hearing those words at that moment I thought very deeply about what Christ was asking of me, and of all of us. Watch and pray. To watch means to be aware, be involved and to act. And always, we must remember to pray. This is what we must do to ensure that the Church we all love continues to rebuild.

The University of San Diego has created a website to provide resources and address the crisis. For latest news and a research guide for faculty, as well as reporting procedures and counseling services, please visit the Church in Crisis website. In addition, University Ministry staff are available to speak with students, faculty or staff who have experienced sexual misconduct, are struggling with questions about the Church or have had their faith shaken by the recent revelations. University Ministry is located in University Center 238 and can be reached at (619) 260-4735.


Erin Bishop
619 260-4785