Latin Influence and the Future of the Church in U.S.

Interview With Archbishop José Gómez of San Antonio

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CHICAGO, JUNE 20, 2005 ( Hispanic Catholicism is helping the U.S. culture return to its Christian roots, says Archbishop José Horacio Gómez of San Antonio, Texas.

The Mexican-born archbishop, 53, heads the ad hoc committee for the translation of the Bible for Hispanic communities in the United States. He was previously an auxiliary bishop in Denver, Colorado.

Here, he shared his views with ZENIT and the publication El Observador.

Q: Is Hispanic immigration influencing the culture and Catholicism in the United States?

Archbishop Gómez: I believe so. The presence of Hispanics in the United States is a fact of great value for the culture. In some way, the values they bring — that we immigrants bring — is making North American culture return to its Christian roots.

Q: Do you think that the values of Hispanic immigrants are values that can fertilize U.S. culture?

Archbishop Gómez: Much has been lost in U.S. culture because of secularism. The values of the immigrants are very basic, reflecting a profound Catholicism where faith, family, and expressions of piety, etc., are part of our daily life.

Q: Could you give an example from your archdiocese?

Archbishop Gómez: Every Good Friday we have a living Way of the Cross, such as those held in Mexico. It is something unheard of in U.S. culture, as more than 20,000 people participate on the streets of the center of the city of San Antonio.

It is impressive: The whole city is aware of what takes place that day. It is a way of appreciating how immigrants are influencing the culture of the United States through practices of popular devotion.

Q: Is the Church in the United States trying to show society that immigration is an opportunity and not an obstacle for the country’s development?

Archbishop Gómez: Absolutely. For many years, the bishops of the United States have said that the presence of immigrants is a great blessing for the Church. I believe this is true. Perhaps, before, Latinos were more localized in specific areas such as California, Texas, Florida. But this is no longer true.

Today they are all over the country. And the influence they have on culture is profound, although it takes time for those manifestations to become reality. Moreover, I think that the influence of the Latinos is the future of the Catholic Church in the United States.

Q: What role will the Church play in receiving immigrants, since we must not forget that states have legal means to defend their borders and control internal security?

Archbishop Gómez: The Catholic Church will always be open to receive immigrants, because it sees them as human persons.

It is true that governments of states have the right to establish immigration controls; however, the majority of North Americans realize that a migratory reform is necessary in which both the U.S. government and the Latin American governments collaborate.

Q: Will the Church then continue to act as it has up to now?

Archbishop Gómez: Yes. Moreover, one must keep in mind that, in general, the first place immigrants go to is the Church. Culturally, they trust the Church, which is not the case with governmental or even social institutions.

It is essential for us to receive them, to help them and to treat them as persons, and I think this is what all of us bishops of the United States are saying.

Q: The project you head, to translate the Bible for the Hispanic communities in the United States, is under way. Is it necessary? Why?

Archbishop Gómez: It is a long-term, very interesting project that will take about 10 years.

It stems from an initiative of Monsignor Gabino Zavala [auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles], and is being carried out in conjunction with CELAM. In the spirit of John Paul II’s «Ecclesia in America,» we are also hoping to invite the bishops of Canada.

The intention is to make available the Word of God to all Spanish-speaking people in the United States.

It must be kept in mind that in North American culture, given its Protestant root, the use of the Bible is a priority. Therefore, it is necessary that we give Latinos the opportunity to know the Bible from the Catholic point of view, so that they can deepen their values of faith and apply them to daily life.

In fact, the intention is to help the Hispanic community in three areas: catechesis, personal prayer and liturgy.

Q: Could this be a way for the Latin American Church to help the U.S. Church?

Archbishop Gómez: Absolutely. The majority of the translators of the Bible are from Latin America.

Although we must make certain that the language is appropriate for Hispanics in the United States, the contribution of the Latin American Church will give us the opportunity to have a wide distribution of the Bible in the language that the Hispanic community in this country can understand.

Q: Are there differences between Denver and San Antonio, or are the problems of Hispanic Catholicism basically the same?

Archbishop Gómez: There are many differences. There is a great Latin presence in Denver, but of recent immigrants.

Instead, the Catholic tradition has existed for a long time in San Antonio and there is a much more profound mixture of cultures. The majority of Latinos in San Antonio are perfectly bilingual, and the archdiocese is very Catholic, comprising about 60% of the population, which is well above the 20% average of other cities.

In March 2006 we will celebrate the 275th anniversary of the San Fernando Cathedral, which gives an idea of the profound roots of Catholicism in San Antonio.

Q: Could San Antonio be a platform for the spread of Catholicism in the United States?

Archbishop Gómez: Undoubtedly. In San Antonio, the relationship between cultures, between the Mexican and Anglo-Saxon cultures, as well as with other cultures that make up the United States mosaic, the German, Polish, Italian and now the Eastern, is impressive.

Over the years there has been intense collaboration and acceptance of everything by all in the Archdiocese of San Antonio, something which is not seen in other parts of the country. That is why I think it is a model of what American society will be in the future.

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