Leading the Biggest Flock in the US

Author: ZENIT


Leading the Biggest Flock in the US

Part 1Interview With Los Angeles Coadjutor, Archbishop Gómez

By Carmen Elena Villa

Being named to the largest and one of the most diverse archdioceses in the United States unquestionably implies a variety of challenges. But the coadjutor archbishop of Los Angeles sees his appointment simply as God's plan for him.

This is the affirmation made by Archbishop José Gómez, moved in April from the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Texas, to California, where he will assist Cardinal Roger Mahony, 74, until the cardinal retires.

The 58-year-old archbishop, a native of Mexico, spoke with ZENIT about his new mission, its challenges and joys.

Part 2 of this interview will be published Friday.

ZENIT: What was your reaction to the appointment as coadjutor archbishop of Los Angeles?
Archbishop Gómez: The episcopal ring signifies the bishop's permanent union with the portion of the Church that the Lord entrusts to him through the Vicar of Christ. I don't think any bishop, deep down, is prepared for a transition; that is, to leave behind that group of faithful with whom he has established profoundly spiritual bonds.
Hence, there is always a factor of pain on leaving a diocese and certainly in my case, with San Antonio, it was no exception. But on the other hand, we see in the Holy Father's decisions the designs of God for us, and because of this there is always joy in following him in the new mission he entrusts to us, knowing that we are pilgrims while we have not arrived to the house of the Father.
To respond to Pope Benedict's call to come to Los Angeles as Cardinal Mahony's collaborator and eventually as successor had these two very marked dimensions.

ZENIT: Over the brief time you have been coadjutor archbishop, what is your impression of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles?
Archbishop Gómez: It is, numerically, the largest of the United States and one of the most varied in the world. In fact, I have been here too short a time to be able to have a complete idea of everything that happens in its many corners.
Few dioceses are so urban and cosmopolitan and, at the same time, so dynamic in their population growth, especially as a consequence of immigration. And that is why it is possible to say that, at its various levels, the challenges to be faced go from those that exist in the most "postmodern" and developed cities of the world to the most modest of Latin America.
ZENIT: In the midst of this complexity, do you see an evangelizing potential?
Archbishop Gómez: Of course. This archdiocese, from the first moment of my arrival, has surprised me by the cultural variety and richness of the Catholic community and the gifts that each one contributes with great generosity.
As always, the potential and the future of an archdiocese lies not only in what the pastor can do, but also and especially in what the priests and the faithful contribute.
ZENIT: In the midst of a society where relativism and moral confusion prevail, how can the message of Christ and the values of the Gospel be made ever more timely?
Archbishop Gómez: Los Angeles is certainly an emblematic place if we consider that this is one of the development centers of the new technologies and at the same time of Hollywood, where the majority of entertainment for the United States and for a good part of the world is produced, with its well-known cultural consequences.
However, the challenge to make the Lord Jesus' message relevant is not essentially different from that faced by my brother bishops in other parts of the country or of the world. Nor is it very different from the one St. Paul faced when he preached in the Areopagus.
Pope John Paul II in fact coined the term "new Areopagi" to encourage us to understand that there is no realm of human action where the Gospel cannot enter, so long as one complies with the Christian's fundamental mission: to become himself a witness of Jesus Christ, an inspiring example that reveals to the men and women of our time the saving reality of Jesus Christ and his Church.
ZENIT: Can one say that the Church in this archdiocese is a Church that is alive?
Archbishop Gómez: Of course. The parishes are full on Sundays, and the faithful take part in parish life and in a variety of formation and social outreach activities.
Undoubtedly, the secularist culture of many environments challenges the creativity of today's Christian; however, where there are Christians determined to follow Jesus Christ and to give witness of the love of God to the world, specific paths of evangelization for each environment will be found.
Let's not forget that St. Paul's first preaching in the Areopagus was a failure in the eyes of the world. But the generous dedication of the Apostle to the Gentiles to the mission Jesus Christ entrusted to him would become the cornerstone of the evangelization not only of those who lived in the Roman Empire, but of the culture itself.

ZENIT: When you took office, the faithful received you with much enthusiasm. Why such joy and affection?
Archbishop Gómez: Los Angeles has an amazing number of Catholics with a profound sense of Church. An affectionate reception for its pastors is, in a certain sense, a historical reality. And I think I have been the beneficiary of this lovely tradition of receiving each pastor for what he is, a successor of the Apostles.
ZENIT: Do you think that this warm welcome was influenced by the fact of your Hispanic origin?
Archbishop Gómez: Certainly, the growing number of Hispanic faithful, who today make up a decided majority of the Los Angeles Catholic community, and the fact that the Holy Father chose for them an archbishop of Mexican origin, has had an important role in this welcome.
I perceived this not only the day of my reception as coadjutor, but especially in the Mass that I celebrated on my first Sunday in the archdiocese. The Hispanics' greetings at the end of the Mass lasted for almost two hours. There was evident joy in this very large community, a community that is decisive for the future of the Church in the United States.
But, moreover, in Los Angeles the Mass is celebrated in more than 40 languages, and I am impressed and grateful for the enthusiasm in the kind reception I received from everyone. I am living here what I affirmed since I was appointed auxiliary bishop of Denver, Colorado, in 2001: I am a Hispanic bishop, but I am not a bishop only for Hispanics. I am a bishop of all and for all.
__________________________________________________________________________ Part 2Interview With Los Angeles Coadjutor By Carmen Elena Villa

Coadjutor Archbishop José Gómez describes himself as a Hispanic prelate, since he is a native of Mexico, but he explains that he's not only a bishop for Hispanics. Rather "I am a bishop of all and for all."

The archbishop affirmed this when he spoke with ZENIT about his recent appointment to Los Angeles. Benedict XVI moved him from San Antonio, where he'd served since 2004, to assist Cardinal Roger Mahony, 74, until the cardinal retires.

Los Angeles is numerically the most numerous archdiocese in the United States, and over the past years, has grown exponentially due to Hispanic immigration.

The archbishop spoke with ZENIT about Hispanic ministry in the archdiocese, drawing from his own expertise as a member of that culture.

Part 1 of this interview was published Thursday.

ZENIT: How do you see Hispanic ministry in this archdiocese?
Archbishop Gómez: Over the last decades, Los Angeles has had a very strong Hispanic ministry, but the growth of the Hispanic population has always made every effort too little. Hispanic Catholics bring innumerable riches and values, as all my brother bishops in the North American episcopate have acknowledged; but they require much attention to reach a level of education, of understanding of the cultural reality in which they live, and insertion in the culture.
ZENIT: And how do you think this process can be lived in a cultural reality as complex as that of Los Angeles?
Archbishop Gómez: Much has been written and said on this topic. I myself have spoken about it on different occasions.
What is true is that the challenge of the integration of Hispanics in the North American culture — integration that must not mean "assimilation" — and their ability to enrich it significantly depends above all on the promotion of Hispanic Catholic leadership that consciously supports this process.
A process in which Hispanics adopt the values of the North American culture, but above all contribute to this culture their greatest treasures: evangelical trust in the Lord and the Most Holy Virgin, love of life from conception to its natural end, respect for the family, a spirit of solidarity and compassion for the neediest.
Only through the emergence of an important number of Hispanic priests, of men and women religious, of lay leaders in the realm of business and culture, of youth leaders, of well-formed and committed married couples, will we be able to address this challenge, which appears as a unique historic opportunity not only for Hispanics but for the United States.
ZENIT: How does the Church intervene in the migration policies in California?
Archbishop Gómez: The subject of immigration is not something that can be addressed and resolved at the state level. Compared with the dimensions of the problem, what the bishops can do at the state level is little.
The subject of immigration requires a national and comprehensive solution. This is what we, the Catholic bishops of the United States, have been saying for a long time. Cardinal Mahony himself, in Los Angeles, recently published a reflection on the topic, reiterating the need of a reform of the system.
Recently some brother bishops of the United States, at the end of a meeting with their counterparts of Latin America and the Caribbean, made an appeal to the U.S. Congress and to President Obama's administration to affirm the tradition of the United States as a nation of immigrants.
In the communiqué, the bishops, expressing the feeling of the episcopate as a whole, requested the reform of "U.S. immigration law to allow migrants who work hard in the U.S. economy to enjoy the benefits of legal protection."
The June 11 communiqué also pointed out that a reform of this nature "would preclude the need to impose criminal penalties on persons not lawfully admitted," while at the same time it would put an end to one of the greatest tragedies that we are witnessing at present, namely, the deportations that separate families.

ZENIT: Can you, who are known as a great promoter of vocations, tell us how you see vocational ministry in this archdiocese?
Archbishop Gómez: Again, I have been too short a time in Los Angeles to be able to make a judgment on the state of vocational ministry. However, there is something that any bishop in the United States would say: We never have enough vocations, and this applies also to Los Angeles. We need many and very good vocations in all the realms of our Catholic community, but especially among Hispanics. And vocational ministry is much more than having an office from which to encourage young men to consider the possibility of Jesus' call to follow him through the sacramental priesthood. We need to create, first of all, in families and then in communities, in parishes, in Catholic schools, in a word, in every possible environment, a context that is propitious for the emergence, development and consolidation of vocations.

The Lord is not outdone in generosity. He does not want a Church without ministers who look after the needs of the faithful. Hence, there is a constant and firm call from God. What is lacking are responses. And if young men don't hear the call in the midst of their world, in the heart of their families, in the school or parish, then they cannot respond. In the main, the large Hispanic population in Los Angeles is young. Hence I place much hope in this youth, if we give them the adequate means to open their heart to God's call.
ZENIT: The Year for Priests ended two months ago. What fruits did this celebration leave in this archdiocese?
Archbishop Gómez: The whole Church has been profoundly renewed by this initiative. I think the Year for Priests has been one of the most decisive events for many priests, as an opportunity to renew themselves in their priesthood. It was about an interior process, silent, discreet, and because of this, it did not capture the same headlines that other lamentable events have. However, I am convinced that, when the history is written of this period of the Church in the world, the Year for Priests will be remembered as a very important moment of inflection for the renewal of the priesthood and with it, of the life of the Church.

I lived this Year for Priests almost totally in San Antonio, and I experienced there the enormous fruits not only among the priests of different ages, but among all the other members of the Church, who felt confirmed in their own vocations, as well as motivated to be more active in supporting, encouraging and accompanying their priests, and of promoting vocations to the priesthood. And that's a lot.
ZENIT: You have just published a book on this topic.
Archbishop Gómez: Yes. It is titled "Men of Brave Heart" (Our Sunday Visitor Publishing). In the book, which I sub-titled "The Virtue of Courage in the Priestly Life," I said that "I have thought for many years about what a mystery it is that God calls ordinary men to share in his plan for the salvation of the world. The priest alone is configured to Christ so that he stands in the person of the Savior himself, a messenger and vessel of the mercy of God. Yet at the same time, the priest remains a man like others, not noticeably different on the outside from the rest of men. ...

"To heed such a call, a call that comes personally from the living God, a man needs a generous heart. To live out that call over the course of a lifetime, to give himself totally to God, a man needs a brave heart."

I am convinced that the Year for Priests inspired many priests to live this mystery with greater courage and trust in God's grace. And in turn the testimony of these priests who are renewed in their vocation has encouraged many young men to follow this path. With the grace of God, I trust that this archdiocese will also see its portion of fruits from this great initiative.

[Translation from the original Spanish by ZENIT]

On the Net:
Men of Brave Heart: www.amazon.com/Men-Brave-Heart-Courage-Priestly/dp/1592766803

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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