Archbishop José H. Gomez has reminded that young people deserve Jesus and that striving for holiness and getting closer to Christ gives their lives meaning.
In an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with ZENIT in the Vatican during the Synod, the Archbishop of Los Angeles and Vice-President of US Bishops highlighted this, underscoring: “It is about an encounter with Jesus Christ; otherwise, you are wasting your time and efforts.”
In the interview, the American prelate and Synod Father, participating as part of the US delegation, reflects on the synod, young people, “what the Catholic faith is really about,” and practical recommendations for youth to grow closer to the Lord, find real meaning in their lives and become “everyday saints.”
Archbishop Gomez also condemns the abuses in the Church, saying “Even one case of abuse of a child, is one too many,” and how the Church in the United States is in a process of making sure they are faithful to what they are promising. Discussing what the Church and the USCCB is doing to combat this scourge, the American prelate also explains various best practices, trainings and measures the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has effectuated to guarantee children are safe. In addition, he decries clericalism–saying the clerics are there only to serve the people, not themselves–and proposes ways to prevent it.
Moreover, the Archbishop of Los Angeles reflects on what it means to him on a personal level that this global encounter of bishops is taking place in the same period as the 40th Anniversary of the election of Pope St. John Paul II as Pope, and underscores that women and lay faithful are not just important parts of the Church, but are essential, for “they are the Church.”
The Mexican-born American Archbishop also provides advice on how not to get overwhelmed by negative or divided press at this time, and how to continue moving forward peacefully in the faith and in the certainty of God’s plan for each of our lives.
Here is our exclusive interview with Archbishop Gomez:
ZENIT: Archbishop Gomez, what do you believe the Church must be conveying to young people?
Archbishop Gomez: God is with us all the time and he has a beautiful plan for us. The young people of the United States need to understand that they are the present of the Church, not just the future of the Church. They need to realize they are not just very important–but are absolutely essential–to the life of the Church. We want their full participation and contributions. They do have to take the initiative, participate in the life of the parish, and become more involved in the living and practicing of their faith and in service to others. This is important. I would tell them too, to not be afraid talk to priests and bishops, as we are totally open to listening to them and want to help.
ZENIT: There has been much listening in this Synod. Has there been enough proposing?
Archbishop Gomez: I think what is always very interesting is the Synod’s process. The Instrumentum Laboris had its three sections: See what is going on, Judge, and Act. That is a way of doing things that is common in Latin America. All the documents of the bishops of Latin America follow something similar, for instance one sees this in the Aparecida Document. The Instrumentum Laboris is a similar structure. If you look at its parts, you see that is what they are trying to do… It is important to understand—and this I have said in my presentation—God has a beautiful plan for us. In that plan, we need to try to understand that this plan requires our personal striving for holiness. We have been listening to the young people and are inviting and accompanying them to strive for holiness. We are at the point as we prepare this final document to indicate how important it is to act and propose to young people the importance of their having and cultivating a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ in their lives.
ZENIT: In your recent column ‘Young People Deserve Jesus‘, Your Excellency, you had mentioned the importance of looking at saints of our times, of recent times, and that there is a need for new models as well, to inspire young people to be ‘everyday saints.’ Are there certain ones who come to mind, or of the past who are timeless?
Archbishop Gomez: Yes. This recent canonization was a great example. St. Paul VI now, has a real long story of having been working in the Holy See and when he became Pope, he was the one, who, in a sense received the gift of the Second Vatican Council, and underscored the importance of the universal call to holiness, that we are all called to holiness. St. Paul VI is a wonderful example. Of course, [St.] Archbishop [Oscar] Romero obviously for me is a beautiful example. Those are the two bishops who I can look at and try to be like them. It takes a long time to make a bishop a saint. In some cases, some than 500 years… [smiling]. There are many others. For me, Saint Josemaría Escrivá, who I met personally, is a beautiful saint, also for young people. Also, the heroic San José Sánchez del Río, who gave his life in Mexico, martyred at just age 14. We have Dorothy Day, a woman from New York, who endured a challenging life, experienced a conversion, and she is in the process of canonization in the United States. Such a beautiful example. These models, among others, can inspire young people in their personal quest and journey for holiness, also in their day-to-day lives.
ZENIT: During the Holy Father’s homily during the Oct. 14 Canonization Mass, he spoke about how it is important to give 100 percent, and that it is not good enough to observe some Commandments, not others… that it is not good enough to be watered- down Christians, if you will… How is it possible to explain this to a young person who may say that all they come across in their everyday lives is generally contradictory to what the Church teaches and calls for? Even if they wish to adhere fully, but still find themselves falling short, what would be your advice for them, to realize that it is worth the challenge of trying to live out fully their Catholic faith and morality, without compromising?
Archbishop Gomez: I think it starts with the personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Otherwise, you are wasting your time and efforts, because you do not know what they are for. You do not recognize or know what or who He is. It is analogous to the experience of the Apostles. Before their encounter with Jesus, they asked themselves who He was and what He was doing? But they desired having this personal encounter with Jesus, this Kerygma experience, that encounter with God. Jesus Himself gave everything for us, to the point of giving His life, up until the Crucifixion. We are supposed to be imitating our Lord Jesus Christ. So, this challenge is for us too, to sacrifice and give ourselves similarly, to really know Jesus, because that is what our Catholic faith is all about. It is not about the bishops or only fulfilling regulations or goals, it is about Jesus Christ. I think it is about our example, how we do things, how we attract or inspire these young people to pursue that personal encounter with Jesus Christ. From there, it is up to Jesus.
ZENIT: What are some practical recommendations that you would give to young people who would like to get to know Jesus better, to know the faith, in their daily lives?
Archbishop Gomez: The things are I always recommend are: first, prayer: talking to God and listening to God. Because I know that sometimes it is difficult for these young people to understand that God is present in our lives all the time. But that is the truth. We were created by God, with the generosity and love of our parents. But God is the one who keeps us alive. He knows everything and is interested in us and every aspect of our lives. Second, read the Gospel. It is important to read the life of Jesus because Christianity is about Jesus Christ. It makes sense we get to know Him. Just like many people are interested in knowing all about celebrities or sports figures, or important people in our lives, it makes sense to get to know He who matters most: Jesus. Third, Holy Communion, because in Holy Communion we receive God himself. Young people have an incredible devotion for the Eucharist. I have seen it in Los Angeles, how important it is for them, to have the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. With all these events that we have for young people in the Archdiocese, like our OneLifeLA family festival, our City of Saints celebration, and our program, Christian Service 4 Life, we have exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. It is beautiful to see how these young people are attracted to the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Prayer, the Gospels and the Eucharist, are essential. Then obviously one must serve people, because it is not just about ourselves, but about making life better for others.
ZENIT: During this Synod was the 40th anniversary of the First Mass of St. John Paul II, and his feast day. He was loved by millions of young people, and was also explicit and clear about Church teaching. How can he be a model for the Church today?
Archbishop Gomez: Well, he was a model for me [smiling]. I am celebrating my 40th anniversary of being a priest. I was ordained in August of 1978, and he became Pope in October. My whole priesthood was under and with Pope John Paul II. He was a wonderful example for all of us, for priests, for bishops, for everyone, on how to be faithful to God and to, at the same time, give himself completely to people, until his death. It was beautiful to see that papacy. To have come from nothing, a country suffering persecution, then become the Holy Father and evangelize all over the world, left such an impact and was so inspirational to me and so many others worldwide.
ZENIT: What do you believe is the measure that would be most important to help the Church regain credibility after the scandals?
Archbishop Gomez: They need to know we are sorry for what happened, and for the things that have happened in the past … We are in a time of reform. Even one case of abuse of a child, is one too many. Those things should not and cannot happen and we are very, very sorry. We are totally committed to the healing of the people who suffer as a consequence. I think in every diocese or archdiocese in the United States, and I would say in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, I would say we are totally committed to making sure that those things never happen again. In the Church in the United States, we are in a process of making sure we are faithful to what we are promising people. The USCCB [United States Conference of Catholic Bishops] has already made some decisions, which you know. Also, at the upcoming bishops’ meeting in November, we are going to be very clear about the way that things should be done in the United States. Sometimes people do not know the numbers of things we have done. In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, we have trained over 1.4 million Catholic school children in the past 10 years in what are called, safe environment programs. We have also trained more than 329,000 adults in the programs for protection of children. Every single employee and every single volunteer in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, must go through fingerprinting. We are really making sure that our parishes and schools, and every single entity of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is totally safe for children. But a lot of people do not know that…
ZENIT: Yes. Most of these cases in the reports, thinking especially of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, are historic cases, which happened many years ago. Most of those who have committed these terrible acts are dead or very elderly. And especially after 2002, with the Dallas Charter, the actually cases are dramatically reduced. There are very few cases…
Archbishop Gomez: That is exactly right, especially after the putting in place of the Dallas Charter [The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People is a comprehensive set of procedures originally established by the USCCB in June 2002 for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. The Charter also includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability, and prevention of future acts of abuse. It was revised in 2005, 2011, and 2018]. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles also goes a step-further with zero-tolerance because it pertains not only to clergy, but also to lay people. So, if you are found to have abused a minor at any time in your life, so it could have been when you were a teenager or a minor yourself, you are not allowed to serve within the Archdiocese.
ZENIT: Thinking of your direct pastoral experience, can you recall an encounter of a young person that has given you hope for the future Of the Church? Can you think of such an episode?
Archbishop Gomez: In the different parishes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, you can see the youth ministry is becoming more important for the parish and the Church. There is a beautiful event in Los Angeles called City of Saints, which is a three-day conference for young people to get to know Jesus better. It is the first weekend of August at UCLA. I am there for the whole weekend and it is wonderful to speak with the kids. It gives great hope to see how committed they are in their spirituality and the practice of their faith. They have interesting questions. They would like different music at times in the Masses. They would like to have more loud music [smiling]. I try to explain to them the Church has a structure and so they must be involved for the structure to be more effective. I am suggesting to every single pastor in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to have at least two young people as members of the parish council for each parish. Therefore, both sides can understand each other, and see how they can work together.
ZENIT: I have come across young people who say they feel the Catholic Church is prejudiced. Sometimes they use women as an example, since women cannot be priests or vote in a synod. How would explain to a young person, that it is not a matter of being prejudiced, it is a matter of tradition. How would you explain this to someone who tries to make this argument?
Archbishop Gomez: The Church started with two women, the Blessed Mother and St. Elizabeth [smiling]. Women are absolutely essential to the Church. It is important that people remember that. People think sometimes of bishops and priests in a certain way. But we are all the same. We all participate in the common priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The fact that some are priests and women cannot be priests to me does not diminish their incredible importance in the Church. From my point of view, it is not what is essential or what is important for the life of the Church. Our Blessed Mother was not a priest, but she is the mother of Jesus. That is much more important than any priest.
My point is that the functions of people are not what is essential. Many women and lay people are saints, it is true that historically that there is a tendency for importance to be given to the clerics, but I think Pope Francis has been very clear and I totally agree, that clericalism is something we need to work on in the life of the Church. The role of the bishop, priests, and the Pope is to serve the people of God, not to be the center of attention. We are not here for power. We are here to serve the people.
ZENIT: Do think there is a way to prevent or work against clericalism?
Archbishop Gomez: Yes, we must make sure it is not happening the in Church. That is what the Second Vatican Council was all about that; the lay people need to wake up and understand that what God wants for all of us is to strive for holiness, to be active, to participate in the life of the Church. We have many ways of doing this. We need to fight against any signs of clericalism. The clerics are there to serve the people.
ZENIT: In the US right now, many American Catholics are not sure what to think when they hear the news, which often is very polarized, even among Catholic media. Many are wounded and angry. Do you have a suggestion on how people living their faith as American Catholics ought to not get overly pulled into these debates and just move forward in their faith and prayer life?
Archbishop Gomez: We need to understand that everyone — the lay faithful, religious, the priests, the bishops—we are all in the process of reform. We all need to work together. This is not the first time the Church has needed reform. I have been reading some of the works of St. Charles Borromeo. Ordained a priest during the Council of Trent, St. Charles Borromeo became an archbishop and cardinal just months after the Council. The Council took place in the midst of a time when situations in the Church were particularly problematic. There was the reform, in which St. Charles Borromeo was especially instrumental, and afterward the Church flourished.
We are at in a process of renewal, in my view, which started with the Second Vatican Council and now we are making a lot of progress. Now as we work together, the Church will flourish again in a few years. I think it is important to understand these things happen in the Church, and the lay faithful need to realize how important the priests and bishops, and the Pope are to the Church. It is very important for us to be united and to work together and pray for each other because we all are the Church together. We in the United States we need to be more aware of that. We are all sinners. Pope Francis said at the start of his pontificate. Jesus came for sinners, not for people who are saints. We help each other and then we will see the fruits of God’s grace here in the life of the Church in the United States.
ZENIT: Is there anything else, Archbishop Gomez, that you would like to add?
I think, I am very hopeful things will go in the right direction in the future and it is important that we realize that with the grace of God we can do everything. You think of what Jesus asked the Apostles to do: to be united together. They had differences among them, but they worked together. I think it is very important for all of us to be very positive. It is not our Church, but Christ’s Church. We need to be optimistic.
ZENIT: Thank you, Archbishop Gomez