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California bishop loses episcopal ring in armed robbery

BISHOP Michael Barber

Kevin T. Murray | Flickr CC by 2.0

John Burger - published on 05/28/21

Bishop Michael Barber was praying the Rosary while walking around Oakland when a young man thrust a gun in his face.

The ring of a Catholic bishop is highly symbolic. For some, it is analogous to the ring spouses wear, symbolizing the eternal commitment they vow to one another at their wedding. 

So when Bishop Michael Barber was robbed at gunpoint recently, it was a blow for him when the assailant demanded not only cash but his ring as well.

Bishop Barber, who leads the Diocese of Oakland, California, regularly takes an afternoon walk in the area near the Cathedral of Christ the Light to pray his Rosary. On Saturday, he was near the Paramount Theater when he was approached by a man who pulled out a weapon.

ABC7 News said “the young man slammed the gun onto his face.”

“Yesterday, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon I was taking a walk in our neighborhood,” Bishop Barber said during Mass at the cathedral on Pentecost Sunday. “A man pulled a gun on me, pointed it at me and said ‘Give me your wallet.”

The bishop admitted he was “terrified,” thinking the man might pull the trigger. 

“‘Maybe this is it,’ I said … ‘I’m sorry for my sins Lord,’” he related. “I took out my wallet and I was shaking and he said ‘Give me the cash, give me the cash.’ I gave him the money and then he saw my bishop’s ring. He said ‘Give me that ring.’”

The bishop confessed that he would “rather have my life, so I gave him the ring — the ring with which I was consecrated by the archbishop when I was made a bishop, the ring that means I’m married to the Diocese of Oakland. It’s as precious to me as your wedding ring is to you.”

ABC7 News added some details:

“I said please don’t shoot, I’m a Catholic priest,” he said.

The bishop said he was alone on the street, there were no cars that passed during the five minute encounter. He prayed to God, expecting the worst.

“I had just given a sermon that morning, I ordained two new priests in the Cathedral and my sermon was about a Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep … go figure, you know,” said Barber.

Barber says the robber was young, maybe in his early 20s, and rode away on his bike.

He told the congregation at the cathedral that he forgives the suspect.

“The only way we defeat evil and crime and hatred is to pour out the love of Jesus wherever we find evil and crime and hatred and things like that,” he said.

According to ABC7, Oakland Police report the city has seen a 50% increase in armed robberies this year compared to 2020. Barber said parishioners have come up to him with their own stories: “One lady said three guys carjacked her and she was terrified,” he said. “Another lady said her window had been smashed while she had been in church.”

Helen Osman, a spokeswoman for the diocese, told Aleteia that the robbery came just 16 days after the bishop issued a statement on gun violence, “Let’s begin with a prayer to end gun violence.”

“Bishop Barber, along with faith leaders from around the community, participates in an ecumenical prayer vigil on the fourth Sunday of each month to pray for an end to gun violence,” Osman said. “He also joins with Oakland’s St. Benedict Parish in regular Night Walks for Peace. We pray for the continued healing of our community and an end to gun violence.”

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