An Interview With Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange

Cross Catholic Outreach: Bishop Vann, thank you for welcoming us to the Diocese of Orange. For many years, we were blessed at Cross Catholic Outreach, as you served on our board of directors for a number of years. During your time, we applied to the Vatican to receive official recognition, and as a canon lawyer, you were part of this process. That was a successful application. I wonder if you can reflect back and tell us the significance of that designation of us becoming a juridical person and how it helps our mission to help the poor.

Bishop Kevin Vann: Canonically, a juridical person is an entity that has official standing within the Body of Christ and can be involved in ministry, fundraising, all those sorts of things. So it is an official recognition by the highest authority in the Church of the work of Cross Catholic that it’s authentic.

Cross Catholic Outreach: The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the Eucharist commits us to the poor. To receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren. It’s a very powerful line from the Catechism among the poor.

Bishop Kevin Vann: Correct, and Pope John Paul II would have been a part of the formulation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which would’ve become the standard for a life of faith in these years, so that means by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, we then have to be aware of the body and blood of the folks whom we serve a ministry to. You see Christ in the Eucharist; you see him in the poor as well.

Cross Catholic Outreach: The theme for this year’s World Day for the Poor, which Pope Francis started a number of years ago, it’s actually next weekend. “For your sake Christ became poor,” it comes from 2 Corinthians. This solidarity with the poor, it’s in the Gospel, it’s in the Catechism. How do we make sure we have that in our hearts?

Bishop Kevin Vann: I think we have to make sure it’s in our hearts by being, number one, aware of the poor and our neighbors around us who struggle every day and then to be aware of the Church’s mission to the poor and all the opportunities we’re given to serve the poor and recognize them. Saint Vincent De Paul says — I think it was like this — “If somebody came to the door during community exercises, they would answer the door and serve the poor because he also said the poor are our masters.”

Cross Catholic Outreach: Pope Francis, of course, has written so much, so beautifully about the poor. He wrote about how we should be encountering the poor. He said it’s nice if we give a little money or give our time, but we should be moving. That’s our first step. What does it mean to truly encounter the poor?

Bishop Kevin Vann: Well, the sense of encountering the poor really has had a long history in the life of the Church, as I just mentioned the Vincentians and others who have served the poor over the years. So it means that it’s not just a theory on paper or just an idea. It really means that who the poor are brings us the image of Christ. We have to encounter them and know them, not just as a name but as a real person.

Cross Catholic Outreach: There are many secular charities in the world, and they kind of throw money from time to time at the problem of poverty, which helps temporarily, but it doesn’t lead to lasting transformation in the lives of the poor. The Church has a different approach. It’s called integral human development. Why is that more transformative?

Bishop Kevin Vann: Well, integral human development, I think, is a more recent expression, or one of the more recent dicasteries, but it is how people’s lives can be transformed and changed so that the poor are not just a name or a face but really are a part of our lives.

Cross Catholic Outreach: Cross Catholic Outreach has six of our outreach priests that were commissioned by Pope Francis as Missionaries of Mercy. Can you reflect on why the mission of mercy is so important, and aren’t we all called to be missionaries of mercy?

Bishop Kevin Vann: The idea of mercy has really had a long history in the life of the Church. For example, Pope John Paul II wrote an encyclical, “Dives in Misericordia” (Rich in Mercy). That’s why Saint Vincent De Paul founded the Vincentians with the Daughters of Charity. So it’s always been there, but I think now we have a chance to really know what this means, how we live that ourselves and how it’s not just a theory, but it’s part of our lives. 

Cross Catholic Outreach: One of the many ways Cross Catholic Outreach helps the poor and the developing world is by providing medical aid. I read that you actually worked in a medical field before you went to seminary. Talk about the Church’s goal in providing healthcare to the suffering.

Bishop Kevin Vann: The best thing we have to realize, one of the best gifts we have to realize, in the life of the church is how we take care of the poor and the sick and the needy and how we have that as part of our mission. For example, in our hospitals I walk sometimes in the evenings, I see people around who really are sick. I have a group of deacon candidates that take care of the poor and the sick, so this has to be a part of our lives.

Cross Catholic Outreach: Jesus showed us in the Gospels how much he loved children. Several years ago, Cross Catholic Outreach started a ministry, it’s called the Box of Joy ministry. I know you’re familiar with it. Parishes can participate in packing toys for children. What would you say to encourage Catholic parishes here in the Diocese of Orange to participate?

Bishop Kevin Vann: Well, remember what it says in the rite of Baptism for children, “come to me, and do not hinder them.” So [we need] to really be present and be available for the sick and suffering, but the young as well and the children. Give ourselves an opportunity to really do that when we have it so it’s really part of who we are.

Cross Catholic Outreach: The Church is undergoing the Synod on Synodality. What came out of the listening session here in the Diocese of Orange?

Bishop Kevin Vann: Let me frame it this way, the Synod on Synodality had a long history prior to the Diocese of Orange. For example, we had a huge gathering from the Encuentro 2000. We had a pastoral plan that developed years ago, and then we also had a strategic plan that involved hundreds of thousands of people to help plan the future of our dioceses. So we had that dynamic already here. I remember once we followed the same thing with the Synod on Synodality, and what I heard from many of the folks was that they were very happy and grateful to listen to each other and to be with each other in this monumental plan.

Cross Catholic Outreach: Few bishops have had the opportunity to dedicate a new cathedral as you did, Christ Cathedral here; I think it was in 2019. What do you recall about that day, and what has been the spiritual impact of the new cathedral?

Bishop Kevin Vann: I think the spiritual impact — number one, the prior cathedral served the diocese well. It was the Holy Family Cathedral, but it was actually a parish church to begin the Cathedral, which was a custom at the time. By taking this venerable edifice here, we have now made a real center of Catholic worship and activity. On a given weekend, we have 10,000 people here for Mass in four languages, and this has become a real center for worship, gathering, and prayer and all sorts of things for the diocese.

Cross Catholic Outreach: When we arrived today on the campus, we saw Our Lady of La Vang. Tell us a little about this understanding. How large is the Vietnamese population in the diocese?

Bishop Kevin Vann: We have the largest concentration of Vietnamese outside of Saigon. Many of our parishes have many Vietnamese, and we have about 50 Vietnamese priests. The Catholic heritage of Vietnam is very much a part of the fiber of the Diocese of Orange. They have a great devotion to Our Lady of La Vang. If you talk to many of them, and many of them that were here had been a part of the so-called boat people, they will tell you that when they were kind of on the sea trying to hopefully find a place to land, they would see her, so she guided them. They have a great devotion to her. That’s why this shrine to her is really important to all of them, and to all of us too. It’s one of the greatest days I had when I dedicated the shrine.

Cross Catholic Outreach: Bishop, before we go, I have to ask about this beautiful space. We are on the 13th floor of the Tower of Hope, what they call the Chapel in the Sky. Tell us about this space.

Bishop Kevin Vann: Depending on where I’m looking, I can see the Pacific Ocean there, or I can see Disneyland over there or the San Bernardino Mountains with snow given the time of the year. This space really was specifically designed by Dr. Schuler as a place where people of different faiths could gather. We have different faith gatherings, we have daily Mass here. It really is part of the hand of Dr. Schuler who built this chapel, and we converted it [into a place] of Catholic worship.

Cross Catholic Outreach: Bishop Vann, thank you for your time today and thank you for your many contributions over the years to Cross Catholic Outreach.

Bishop Kevin Vann: You are welcome. I’ve enjoyed it.