Leading the Biggest Flock in the US (Part 2)

Interview With Los Angeles Coadjutor

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By Carmen Elena Villa

LOS ANGELES, SEPT. 10, 2010 (Zenit.org).- 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 re
newed 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]

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On the Net:

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

On ZENIT’s Web page:

Part 1 of this interview: www.zenit.org/article-30298?l=english

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