By Carmen Elena Villa
LOS ANGELES, SEPT. 9, 2010 (Zenit.org).- 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.