Archbishop Gomez recalls time in Texas
June 18, 2013
HOUSTON — Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles will be the keynote speaker for the fourth annual Archdiocesan Prayer Breakfast, set for Friday, July 26, at 7:30 a.m. at the Hilton Americas in downtown Houston.
In a recent interview with the Texas Catholic Herald, Archbishop Gomez discusses his connection to Galveston-Houston, the challenges facing Catholics and Pope Francis.
Texas Catholic Herald: What role did you serve while as a priest in Galveston-Houston before you were ordained a bishop? Do you have any specific memories of your time here?
Archbishop Gomez: I arrived to Houston in 1987 to serve as a priest of the Prelature of Opus Dei, mostly ministering to its activities in the then-Diocese of Galveston-Houston, in the Archdiocese of San Antonio and in other areas of south Texas. Then, I was asked by Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza to assist with Hispanic Ministry at St. Bartholomew Parish in Katy, and I also helped at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, in Houston. During that time I was also involved with the National Association of Hispanic Priests, ANSH, which I served as president and executive director, between 1995 and 2001. I have wonderful memories of those years, and I really enjoyed my time there. I enjoyed ministering to the lay faithful, giving retreats, also working with Hispanic Ministry in the Archdiocese. Of course, Houston is a great city, the Church is very lively and vibrant, and the people are wonderful. In fact, I still keep in touch with many of the good friends I made there.
Texas Catholic Herald: Since transitioning from San Antonio to Los Angeles, is there anything you miss about life in the Lone Star State?
Archbishop Gomez: Of course, I miss the good people of Houston and San Antonio, all my family and friends that live in different places of Texas. I also like the big, open spaces of Texas and its way of life.
Texas Catholic Herald: Galveston-Houston and Los Angeles are both known for their international populations. In your experience, what has been some of the great rewards and challenges of serving such a diverse Catholic community?
Archbishop Gomez: One of the wonderful things about cultural diversity and the Church is that, no matter where we are from, or where we live, we are all part of the same Family of God. We share the same faith, the same beliefs, the same liturgy… So, despite the differences in language or cultural traditions, we encounter very clearly the reality that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.
Texas Catholic Herald: You have been very involved with the National Association of Hispanic Priests and helped form the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders. What kind of impact has your role with these organizations had on you? Has your experience with these groups altered your perspective on any issues related to Hispanic leaders and clergy?
Archbishop Gomez: I’ve also been privileged to play a part in the historic growth of America’s Hispanic community. I’m grateful for the chance I’ve had to collaborate with dedicated pastoral agents and social ministers in organizations such as the National Association of Hispanic Priests, the National Catholic Network de Pastoral Juvenil Hispana (La Red) and the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry.
In 2007, I helped found the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders to strengthen the faith of Latino leaders, to be a voice for social justice and moral renewal in our country. These experiences have helped me to see that it’s time for Hispanics to take up our obligations as leaders in the cultural and political conversations that will shape American life in the years ahead.
Texas Catholic Herald: How will you explore the prayer breakfast theme of “Challenges to Our Faith Today and Beyond” during your keynote?
Archbishop Gomez: The great challenge to our faith today is the increasing secularization of our society. The challenge we have is to really live our faith and not to become “cultural Catholics” or “Sunday-only” Catholics. We are Christians. So we have to live like Christians. That’s the great adventure of our lives. And that’s the challenge, too.
For lay Catholics, the challenge always is to pursue holiness in your daily affairs and activities. The challenge always is to live the Gospel in the middle of the world — in your homes, in the marketplace, in the places where you work, in politics and in your communities. Together we have to change our society. We have to fill our society with the values of the Gospel — the values of truth, justice, solidarity and freedom.
The way we meet the challenge of secularism is to really live our faith. We need Catholic men and women in all walks of life who, by their simple witness to their faith, can open the hearts of others to God’s love and open their minds to the beauty and truth of the Christian message.
Texas Catholic Herald: Pope Francis has certainly enthralled many around the world with his unconventional interactions during the early part of his pontificate. What have been your impressions of this universal response to the Holy Father?
Archbishop Gomez: I think it is wonderful to see the great love and respect that people have for Pope Francis since the very beginning of his pontificate. I, myself, had the great opportunity to be with the Holy Father in April, and it was a real blessing for me to talk to him and to see first-hand that he is really a humble and holy man. He is also the face of our hope for the new evangelization, and he is telling us with his words and in so many pastoral gestures, that the new evangelization must be expressed in works of humility and service.
And I see a lot of people embracing this, with a real zeal for the new evangelization, for service, for more authenticity in the way we live our Christian life. The Holy Father is challenging people, and I think many are really willing to respond.
Texas Catholic Herald: You are a dedicated supporter of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for those discerning the priesthood?
Archbishop Gomez: First of all, I would say to all who feel that they might have a vocation to the priesthood or the consecrated life, don’t be afraid. Our God is a loving God, who created you for something great, and who wants you to be happy. Whatever vocation He might have given you, is your path to happiness. Then, I suggest, start to develop a spiritual life, a personal relationship with God, in prayer. Spend time with God, learn to relate to him. This will be very helpful in listening to what God may have to tell you. Also, inquire about the specific vocation you feel called to, talk to people who have responded to that particular calling. The witness of happy priests, for instance, can be a great encouragement for a young man who feels called to be a priest.
When we believe in God, we want to do God’s will. To listen to what God wants and answer him is essential for our own fulfillment. It is essential to our happiness on earth and in getting us to Heaven. The decision we make to answer God’s call, wherever that call may take us, will make all the difference in life. And even though fear might be present — and it will, regardless of the vocation you’re called to — don’t be discouraged. The fear will go away when you make a decision.
Texas Catholic Herald: Possibly taking cues from the New Evangelization and an emphasis on the Sacraments, how have the faithful inspired you in recent years?
Archbishop Gomez: I am always amazed at the faith and enthusiasm of the people of God. It is wonderful to see our parishes filled on Sunday, with so many people involved in active ministries, in initiatives to impulse the new evangelization and to serve those in need. I see a lot of energy in our parishes, and a great love for the Eucharist, the liturgy, the Holy Father. This is a great sign of hope for our Church, and a beautiful witness for me, to see that amidst all the sufferings and challenges that people face, their faith is very much alive.