Latin America

Bishop Gomez: "Hispanics have a great potential for evangelization".

Omnes-April 11, 2018-Reading time: 9 minutes

Archbishop José Horacio Gómez, Archbishop of Los Angeles since 2011 and vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops since 2016, was born in Mexico (Monterrey). In the Los Angeles metropolitan area more than 70% of the Catholic population is of Hispanic origin.

TEXT - Alfonso Riobó

The Latino presence is perceptible in any corner of Los Angeles, and in places like "La Placita", where the birthplace of the city founded under the patronage of Our Lady of Los Angeles in 1781 is located, the warmth of the Hispanic character is poured into a festive gathering. A high proportion of Latinos is also found in any celebration in the modern cathedral, a work of the Spanish architect Rafael Moneo.

Bishop Gomez receives us there on a very bright day. Many people come to greet him or ask for his blessing or prayers. He likes to be with the people. Then he gives us all the time we need.

The theme of the V Encuentro, to be held in Texas in September, is: Missionary Disciples, Witnesses of God's Love. It seems to echo the Aparecida document, and the priorities of Pope Francis....
-The national meeting of the Fifth Encounter will be held in Grapevine, a town near Dallas, Texas, from September 21-23, 2018. Indeed, the theme of the Fifth Encounter coincides with a spiritual flow that comes from Aparecida and the Holy Father Francis' encyclical Evangelii Gaudium. We seek to extend the powerful vision of Jesus for all the baptized in the United States that will surely reverberate beyond our continental boundaries. Pope Francis calls us to step out of our comfort zone and share God's love with our brothers and sisters, especially those most in need.

What has been the significance of the previous editions of this Meeting?
-The previous Encuentros sought to raise awareness of the importance of Hispanic ministry in the Catholic Church in the United States. Their method encouraged a grassroots pastoral approach that consulted, listened, observed and then discerned and proposed pastoral priorities and strategies that responded to these concerns, seeking the good of the Church. Such proposals were presented to the bishops, who began the dialogue with the people of God to build the Church together at the local and national levels.

Latino culture and the Catholic religion belong to the roots of the United States. You proclaimed, at the opening of the V Encuentro in Los Angeles, that Latinos "are not newcomers, not last minute arrivals, not upstarts. The first Catholics in this country were Latinos from Spain and Mexico! What role does that root play today?
-Latino Catholics have been in this country since before the political formation of what is now the United States. Their roots are very strong, especially throughout the southwestern part of the country. City names like San Diego, Our Lady of the Angels, San Francisco, Santa Fe, Santa Monica, Corpus Christi or San Antonio are just a sample of a whole chain of missions that paint the geography of Catholic fervor. Their living history can be admired in their architecture, enjoyed in their food, rejoiced in their music.
The Catholic culture of this living people is old and new; it is of the past and present, but also of the future. Latinos are the fastest growing and thriving minority in this country. The influence of the Latino in the United States is extremely significant, because its great socio-cultural and religious richness continues to influence and shape all the social and existential dimensions of these United States.

The weight of the Hispanic or Latino community is growing among Catholics in the U.S. What problems and opportunities does this evolution offer?
-This lively flow, old and new, of people who came to the call of a society wounded by depopulation in exchange for better living conditions, has provoked a political situation that has not wanted to be solved. Some see in them opportunities for voting, and others for slavery. But those who suffer are the families who fear division and deportation, especially the young people who have grown up here with the dream of full integration after being brought here as children.
These problems obscure the immense opportunities that the Hispanic population offers to the future of this country: its culture of hard work, of constructive effort, its powerful tradition of family and solidarity, its spirituality rooted in optimistic trust in the provident God... can be threatened by the lack of training and equal working conditions that force this people rich in perennial values to continue living an under-culture that prevents them from flourishing. The children of Catholic immigrants are growing up in a bilingual and bicultural world that has the potential for evangelization if they opt for Christ and overcome the mirage of a hedonistic and agnostic culture.

How do Pastors face the challenge of a consumerist lifestyle, or even the attraction of other religions? In particular, are they concerned that young people in the Latino community may drift away from the Church?
-Consumerism and materialism are great temptations and risks to all of society in the United States. All children and young people in this country, with their growing and developing minds, are exposed to what is shown on social media, which not only influences the mind of the young, but also that of adults. We well know that technology used well builds us up, but mismanaged it destroys us.
Pastors offer the people of God, through parishes or diocesan and inter-diocesan activities such as the Fifth Gathering, the opportunity to participate in various ministries where service, prayer, dialogue and formation support families in the face of these influences.

One of your convictions is that Latinos are called "to be the leaders of our Church". Such leadership requires formation, whether we think of the laity or of priests and religious. How do we form these leaders? Is that an objective of the V Encuentro?
-One of the gifts of the Fifth Encounter is the spirituality and methodology of accompaniment. Just as Jesus accompanied the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we are also called to accompany those most in need. Today's leaders are called to accompany emerging leaders, to pass the torch of faith as facilitators so that others learn to share their faith, to plan their ministry, to visualize the mission, to share their resources. In short, to take the initiative or "primerear" as Pope Francis says, and to go ahead to accompany the brother. The key is accompaniment and, as pastors, we have to strengthen our brothers so that they become apostles of Christ. This is one of the priorities in this Archdiocese.

Vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life are an essential support point. Are priestly and religious vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life among Hispanics on the rise?
-We must give many thanks to God our Lord, who continues to call and enthuse many young people who do not quench their thirst for happiness in our society of consumerism and pleasure. They seek the living water offered by the Lord Jesus, the enthusiasm of the disciples of Emmaus whose hearts burned with the words of the mysterious "companion" on the road. Yes, the Hispanic community has given new impetus to the generosity required to follow the Lord closely and care for his needy people, who wander like "sheep without a shepherd". The challenge is to educate these generous young people, to make them well-formed priests and religious. Here the seminaries, the professors, the formative magazines that they can read, like "Palabra" of course, play a determining role.

Are the activities and messages of the V Encuentro intended only for Latinos, and what about non-Catholics?
-The Fifth Encounter began in the Latin ministry, but it is not only for Latinos. Being a missionary disciple is for all the baptized and Pope Francis tells us clearly in Evangelii Gaudium number 120: "By virtue of baptism, we are all missionary disciples". Therefore, the activities and messages of the V Encounter are intended to forge missionary disciples for all the baptized for the service of the whole Church and humanity.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is a reminder and a living reminder that the United States is a nation of immigrants. To what extent is immigration a problem for the country today?
-As we have said, this country is a country of immigrants who have made it great and powerful. Immigration is a great opportunity for positive growth, sociological studies show us that countries grow and are enriched in the exchange of ideas, ways, and customs, and that is given in the social exchange between peoples.

Some of the government's decisions on immigration are very controversial, such as the elimination of the DACA program for young immigrants (the "dreamers") or the TPS program for Salvadorans. The Catholic bishops, and you in the front line, are defending them with energy. Is there any hope of reaching a "just and humane solution", as they are asking for?
-With my brother bishops we are fighting for a just and complete immigration reform. I pray to God and the Virgin of Guadalupe that it becomes a reality as soon as possible. We are defending the dignity of every human being and we seek a prompt resolution. Our voice is clear and constant on this issue so vital to our society. One of the things we bishops do is to encourage conferences, gather letters of petition in favor of immigration reform to send to political representatives in Congress, and educate people about the issues that affect them directly and indirectly. We have to be vigilant about what happens and speak out for a just and humane solution.

Although you specify that it is not a question of adopting a political position, you do come down to the field of a major social and personal problem... What do you mean when you ask for permanent solutions to the problems of immigration?
-We do not want families to suffer from changes in laws every presidential term, but rather to be able to count on clear laws that allow for growth in legality, a basic security that is the foundation for planning the future with confidence and optimism, leaving behind the fear of uncertainty and political gamesmanship. The suffering families should not be played with.

The great cultural diversity in Los Angeles is striking, and the number of languages and rites in which people can attend Mass in the archdiocese is impressive. One of your priorities is to foster it, while strengthening Catholic identity. Can you tell us about that experience?
-Catholics from all over the world, with their particular ways of expressing their faith, have immigrated to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. It is a blessing that they bring their riches and share them here with us. Here in the Archdiocese you experience a microcosm of what the universal Church is. We seek to strengthen each ethnic group in its particular expression, and at the same time, to strengthen its universal Catholic identity so that each one does not become closed in on its own. It is a great blessing to be in this Archdiocese where we can learn from each other and live together in the Love of Jesus Christ, from which is born a Church that we could call heavenly "because they have come to her from all nations".

You were born for greater things: this is the title of a pastoral letter that he recently wrote and that he is applying. The very scope of the letter shows that it is not an occasional text. What does he propose in the letter?
-The world in which we live offers us different paths, which are not always projects for a son or daughter of God. We are sons and daughters of God. His plan of divine love invites us to do greater things than the world proposes to us. The God who gave us life calls us and urges us to share the love of being his children with all humanity, with those closest to us and with those most in need. Our gestures, our attitudes, must be a reflection of the fact that we are his sons and daughters, and that our heart will not be satisfied with the ephemeral and immediate, because we were born for greater things.

The text reminds us that Christians are responsible for the progress of the world and future generations. And it ends with an invitation to be missionaries, addressed to all. To what extent can Latino Catholics, particularly in Los Angeles, fulfill this invitation?
-It is true, we Christians are responsible for the progress of the world and we are also responsible for future generations, and for this reason, our condition as children born for greater things impels us all to "go out" of ourselves. We are "sent", which means to be missionaries: sent by Jesus to our brothers and sisters. Latino Catholics in Los Angeles can be missionaries if they allow themselves to be found by Jesus and overcome the temptation to think of themselves as Catholics only because they were born into a Catholic family.

What is the current state of the family in the United States? How do you approach family ministry in the country?
-The pastoral means used, such as seminars, formation workshops or retreats, should complement the attention that families should find in their parishes to "be accompanied" in a solid human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation that allows them to remain united despite the counter-cultural and counter-familial difficulties of this country. Young people must be strengthened and accompanied so that when they reach high school or university, they can face the temptation to think that Catholicism is "something of their parents" and that they are called to "secularize" according to the fashionable model. The Church must accompany them so that Christ touches their lives and they do not want to separate themselves from Him or from His friendship. It is necessary that the proposed means touch the most everyday aspects of their family life, of which Pope Francis is a model: the Pope of everyday life.

In many parts of this nation, devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe, the "Queen of America", is evident. How does she accompany them in the current situation of the nation? 
-The Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe is the mother of the family in this Archdiocese, where she is loved dearly, where the people feel her very close in their daily lives. She solves and consoles the personal, family and social problems of her suffering people. She is the Empress of America and the Philippines, the "Mother of the True God for whom one lives". She visited this continent when its borders had not yet been built, and from that little hill she promoted and promotes the unity of all her peoples and the evangelization of all her children. We have begun the annual pilgrimage to her blessed shrine, to place at her feet the projects that her Son inspires in us. May she deign to bless the Fifth Encounter so that we may accompany more and more brothers and sisters in the knowledge, love and imitation of her Divine Son in this country that was born for greater things.

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