At the USCCB Fall Meeting in Baltimore in November of 2008, I had the privilege of sitting down for a brief conversation with the man that Pope Benedict XVI recently named as Coadjutor and the next Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles; Most Reverend José H. Gomez, S.T.D.
As I made arrangements for the interview that afternoon, I’ll never forget what the USCCB Media Relations staffer said to me just before His Excellency and I sat down, “Be nice to Archbishop Gomez, he’s my friend!” I soon got a sense for why this man is so well loved.
In person, Archbishop Gomez comes across as a very bright and engaging man, yet he’s also soft-spoken and quick to offer an at-ease smile to a stranger. He’s one of those people who just naturally exhibit a genuine sort of “old-friend-familiarity” from the first moment you meet him.
It became immediately clear upon speaking with Archbishop Gomez that he has a heart for education and a deep passion for forming the laity in the truths of the Catholic faith. Unlike those who see doctrine as somehow opposed to forming a personal relationship with Christ, Archbishop Gomez approaches the content of the faith as the gateway that leads to a deepening of our relationship with the Lord.
In his first pastoral letter as Archbishop of San Antonio, he described faith formation as “the basis for our life in Christ.” “If we truly love Our Lord,” Archbishop Gomez wrote, “we will want to know him better every passing day.”
In this never before published exchange, Archbishop José Gomez offers some candid insight on the nature of evangelization and catechesis, giving us a privileged glimpse at how he might approach the task of leading the nation’s largest diocese. Particularly noteworthy is the way the interview concludes as His Excellency demonstrates a nearly prophetic awareness of the unique challenges that await him in this large metropolitan see.
Verrecchio: How would you define the “New Evangelization” and what exactly is it that makes it new?
Archbishop Gomez: The New Evangelization is the effort of the Church to bring the truths of the Gospel to the people of our time. John Paul II spoke about this saying that we need to find new ways to talk to people; we need to speak with enthusiasm but also with the truth and with the content of the faith.
Verrecchio: So the “newness” relates to the modes of delivery and the audience to which we’re delivering the Gospel, but not the substance of the faith?
Archbishop Gomez: Correct. I think that is what the Second Vatican Council wanted; it wanted the Church to be enthusiastic in bringing the truth to people by being more attuned to the reality of the world in which we live.
Verrecchio: How has this goal of the Second Vatican Council been misunderstood and misapplied?
Archbishop Gomez: Unfortunately, for some people Vatican II represents a sort of loosening of the content of the truths of the faith, and they see the Council as falling solely into a position of novelty. I think that Vatican II wanted the same content to be presented but with new methods of communication. This is what we intend by the New Evangelization.
Verrecchio: You’re a member of the “USCCB Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis.” Similarly named offices exist on the diocesan and parish levels as well. Why is evangelization so frequently coupled with catechesis?
Archbishop Gomez: Because that is the experience of the encounter with Christ. Consider the history of the Catholic Church; the Apostles first had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and in a sense that was what their evangelization efforts were all about – bringing people before the person and the life of Jesus Christ. But it doesn’t end there. After this initial personal encounter you have to complement it with the education of the faith; that’s catechesis.
Evangelization, for me, is like the first encounter and catechesis is the deepening of the understanding of the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.
Verrecchio: What is your assessment of the state of catechesis here in the USA?
Archbishop Gomez: That’s one of the priorities of the Conference, and in my view, it must be a priority for every single bishop. When I was appointed Archbishop of San Antonio, one of my first pastoral initiatives was a call to grow in the knowledge and the love of Jesus Christ.
I think that the challenge that Catholics have now days is education in the faith. We really need to know our faith. Most Catholics do not know the teachings of the Church. In the old times we not only had Catholic schools, we also had a culture that was supportive of Catholic teachings. The whole life of the cities and towns was built around the religious life.
Now we have these huge metropolises and television and movies and the media and so many things that have nothing to do with the Catholic Church and Catholic teachings. People live in a society that is often opposed to the Faith, and so our challenge is one of formation; bringing people to Christ and then helping them to deepen their understanding of His life and His teaching; the content of our faith.
As a “back-to-basics” shepherd who is intent on combating the errors of the secular world by teaching the content of our Catholic faith, the appointment of Archbishop Gomez is a timely and wonderful blessing for the people of Los Angeles. Deo Gratias!
May the Blessed Virgin Mary,
Queen of the Heavenly Hosts and Help of Bishops,
Guide and protect Archbishop Gomez
As he shepherds in Truth
The faithful of the City of Angels