Archbishop José Gomez, installed as the archbishop of Los Angeles in 2011, is playing a major role in the U.S. bishops’ effort to advocate for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.
He has been a strong supporter of the National Association of Hispanic Priests (ANSH), an organization that seeks to strengthen fraternity among Hispanic priests in the United States. Archbishop Gomez also founded the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders (CALL), which will hold its eighth annual conference in Los Angeles Aug. 22-25.
He spoke with Register senior editor Joan Frawley Desmond on Aug. 2 about his new book, Immigration and the Next America: Renewing the Soul of Our Nation, his hopes for immigration reform, the challenge of transmitting the faith in the 21st century and the importance of nurturing the spiritual life of priests.
In Immigration and the Next America: Renewing the Soul of Our Nation, you write that the “winners” wrote the history of this United States, and this ignored the early legacy of Catholic missionaries. Would you explain what you mean?
I am not suggesting any bad intention [regarding the typical narrative of U.S. history books]. But most people do not know enough about what happened in the South going back to the 1500s. The first martyr was in Kansas, Franciscan Friar Juan de Padilla [1500-1542].
Most people in this country are not aware of what the missionaries did. They were trying to actively help the Native Americans and to establish a society. Los Angeles, San Diego, Corpus Christi — these are Catholic names.
They understood that they were bringing the Gospel to people who were already here, and they understood that the people were their brothers and sisters.
My main point is that the Church was present, Latinos were present, and new immigrants here today want to make a contribution.
What early Hispanic evangelizers have inspired your ministry?
Venerable Antonio Margil de Jesus [1657-1726] and Blessed Junípero Serra [1713-1784]. They really cared about the people. They learned the language of the Native Americans. They helped them start agricultural work, commerce and the arts. They cared for their souls.
You are leading the U.S. bishops’ effort to secure comprehensive immigration reform, and you have taken a position that transcends both the Republican and Democratic party platforms on the issue. What has been your motivation?
As the Holy Father has said, they are our brothers and sisters. And it is important for us to understand that there has been a Hispanic presence in the South and Southwest since the 1500s.
For Catholics, it helps to understand that the foundation of America was a spiritual project, with Catholic missionaries bringing the faith to this country.
You helped found the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders. Why has the establishment of CALL been a priority?
It has been a long process. I wanted to reach out to the Latinos who are professionals in our society. They are Catholics. They go to college. They become part of business world. They want to be in contact with the Church.
As a bishop, you have made priestly formation a primary focus. Why is that so important?
The most important thing is the spiritual life in the seminary. Future priests need to learn about the spiritual life and build it up, so they can be holy priests. They need a solid theological foundation, and I helped to work on that in Denver and San Antonio and now in Los Angeles.
They will be priests in a world that is confused and has a lot of challenges, from the point of view of the teachings of the Church.
I have focused on three issues addressed in Pastores Dabo Vobis (I Shall Give You Shepherds), Blessed John Paul II’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation: the importance of a spiritual life, theological formation and pastoral formation.
Every age has its challenges. What is the challenge for priests in this age?
The great challenge now is that you cannot assume that people have a basic spiritual or moral foundation. Further, there is so much confusion about the nature of the human person.
We need to know our faith better. Lay leadership is essential, and it is bearing fruit in the Church today. Groups like Focus (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) and Endow (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women) are all directed by the lay faithful and are great instruments for educating people in the faith.
Is Pope Francis, and his method of evangelization, providing a model for these confused times?
Pope Francis is reaching out to people no matter where they are, putting an emphasis on the dignity of the human person and addressing their social circumstances and needs.