Catholic Sentinel photo by Clarice Keating
Carlos Ibarra, a Portland police officer, plays during Mass at St. Patrick Church in Portland.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Clarice Keating
Carlos Ibarra, a Portland police officer, plays during Mass at St. Patrick Church in Portland.
At times, Portland Police Officer Carlos Ibarra struggles to understand how his faith and career intersect. 

“I don’t always get to help people in the way Catholics traditionally help people,” he said. “Sometimes I have to be the bad guy. Sometimes I have to take people to jail.”

It’s this thoughtful integration of faith that marks Ibarra’s work and life. His spirituality influences his choices every day, and one recent act of Christian charity – using his own money to help a family in need - earned the police officer much media recognition. 

On a Sunday earlier this month, Ibarra, 28, responded to a call from dispatch to assist a father and his seven children who needed food and a place to stay for the night. Ibarra contacted local shelters to help the family, but most resources were unavailable until the following morning. Without shelter, the children would sleep in the family’s van on a sweltering summer night.

After his Sunday shifts, Ibarra typically hurries home to change, and then heads to St. Patrick Church, where he plays music during the 7 p.m. Mass. He vowed to pray for this family at church that night.

But, this time, prayer didn’t feel like enough.

“I had every opportunity to leave and let them figure it out on their own,” Ibarra said. “At one point I even did leave to respond to an emergency, but something kept telling me to go back and finish what I’d started.”

Ibarra found a hotel with space to accommodate the family and paid the bill with his own money. He also picked up a food basket from Portland Police Bureau’s Sunshine Division.  

“I have so much in my life and they had nothing,” Ibarra said. “It’s really a no-brainer to help those in need, when you can.”

Ibarra’s family moved from Mexico when he was 4, and he was raised in the San Francisco area. Growing up, he was expected to go to Mass every Sunday, but it wasn’t until he moved to Portland in 2012 that the police officer began delving deeper into his faith. 
He joined Quest, a program offered at St. Patrick that allows people from all different backgrounds to gather in a low-pressure environment to learn about and explore the Catholic faith.

When Ibarra presented his uncertainty to his pastor, Father Ignacio Llorente, the priest told him that it’s important to live in the presence of God during work to sanctify himself through his profession.

“You will meet people in ‘extreme situations,’ many times moments of suffering, death, etc.,” Father Llorente said. “Try to be the presence of God in those moments. See them as sons of God no matter what they had done.”

Ibarra admires Father Llorente’s gentle pastoral care. He tries to emulate that respect in all of his interactions in the community surrounding the East Portland Precinct, from which he is stationed.  

Though Ibarra must complete the sometimes-painful duties of his job; but that doesn’t mean he can’t be kind and helpful when he asks people camping on the streets to move along.

“If there are resources available to them, I do what I can to make them feel supported,” he said. “Some people won’t accept it, but that doesn’t mean I won’t do my part in offering.”

Father Llorente advises people who work in challenging settlings like law enforcement to entrust the lives of those they have seen that day to the Lord in order to live the rest of the day with peace.

In Ibarra’s off hours, he prays for the people he meets who are suffering.

“That’s something they deserve because often there aren’t many people keeping them in their thoughts,” he said.