An audience of around 20 crowded onto the small set for the March 7 broadcast of “Diálogo de Fe,” a monthly Spanish-language radio and television program hosted by Archbishop José H. Gomez.
The archbishop walked onto the stage, unannounced, and the group fell silent.
“Will I sit down or what should I do?” the archbishop asked the stage manager. The archbishop sat down, waiting for the co-host to take the seat opposite his, and looked out into the audience.
“Where are you guys from?” he asked. They took turns telling him the various parishes they attend from throughout the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
“This is the basement of the cathedral,” the archbishop said. “But there’s another basement, farther down. This church was built to sustain earthquakes.”
Demi Orozco, the co-host, took her place before the camera.
“Behave yourselves,” the archbishop quipped.
The New Evangelization is central to Archbishop Gomez’s ministry. He hosted a similar program in the Archdiocese of San Antonio, the church he led until Pope Benedict XVI appointed him to be coadjutor of Los Angeles on April 6, 2010.
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles from 1985 to 2011, showed him the reins of the largest archdiocese in the United States for the next 11 months. Archbishop Gomez took over three years ago, on March 1, 2011.
He didn’t expect the appointment.
“Every time someone would say it to the archbishop, he would say, ‘That’s not going to happen,’” recounted Luciane Urban, executive coordinator for the archbishop. “But it did.”
Urban has worked with the archbishop since he was the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Denver.
“He’s a humble man, so I’m sure he thinks he’s unworthy,” she said. “I don’t think he thought of it much before, but God wanted it to be this way. God gives us the mission — and he gives us the grace.”
The archbishop received his second pallium from Pope Benedict June 29, 2011 at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The circular, woolen band with six black crosses is a symbol the world’s archbishops receive as a sign of authority and unity with the pope.
Sister of Charity Mary Elizabeth Galt, chancellor of the archdiocese, was impressed that the archbishop donned a simple black suit rather than the more extravagant bishop’s garb on the visit to Rome.
“There’s a tremendous sincerity about him and I think people pick that up,” Sister Mary Elizabeth said. “I think he was the perfect person for the job because of his authenticity.”
The sister, who previously served as superintendent of Catholic schools for years, recalled a particular visit the archbishop made to dedicate a renovated gym at Our Lady of Lourdes in East Los Angeles.
“He was so precious with the children and the faculty,” she said. “He allowed everyone to take pictures. He went to every class.”
Being among the people is a priority for Archbishop Gomez. It doesn’t go unnoticed.
Ada Riva, a parishioner at St. Paul in West Los Angeles, remembers when the archbishop celebrated confirmations at her church.
“He’s united the Spanish-speaking church,” she said. “He is a bishop that breaks down walls.”
Such was the experience of Dean Tweedy, a fourth degree Knight of Columbus. He recounted how, during a Walk for Life rally at the Rose Bowl, the archbishop ducked barriers to greet participants.
“He breaks protocol,” said Orozco, one of the co-hosts of “Diálogo de Fe” and a weekday host on Guadalupe Radio TV. She said that when someone asks the archbishop to pray for them, he doesn’t just say, “I will.”
“He asks questions. He wants to know details,” Orozco said. “He wants to know more about his people and he wants to know their needs.”
The archbishop said he’s happy to be in Los Angeles, and said he feels supported by the community — especially through prayer.
“I am committed to serve to the best of my abilities,” he said.
Archbishop Gomez begins each day with prayer, spending an hour before the Blessed Sacrament. He then joins his fellow priests in residence at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels in Morning Prayer.
When he can, the archbishop celebrates the 7 a.m. daily Mass. During his homily on Feb. 14, the Feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius, the archbishop said it was a good day to pray for unity.
“What makes the difference in our lives is being open to the Word of God,” the archbishop said. “Let us ask for that grace today — to be open to God, and to listen to his word.”
Archbishop Gomez makes it a point to meditate on the Gospel each day, as well as to recite the rosary. He carries his mother’s rosary in his left pocket. It’s of Our Lady of Torreciudad, but he has an Our Lady of Guadalupe medal affixed to it.
He wants to be aware of the presence of God throughout the day and to give God glory. Being aware of God can lead us to sanctify our daily work, he said.
It takes hours to travel across the archdiocese, according to Father Brian Casta√±eda, the archbishop’s priest secretary. The archbishop neatly folds his suit coat and places it in the backseat of his Ford Taurus. He reviews his calendar and checks email on his iPhone while Father Cata√±eda drives.
“After Mass, he greets everyone, and if time permits, he takes pictures with them,” Father Casta√±eda said. “That’s how I’ve become a master of different cameras — especially phones!”
He poses for photos after “Diálogo de Fe” shows, too. During the show, Orozco or the other co-host, Maria Hilda Gonzales of ESNE Radio/TV, will ask Archbishop Gomez questions about the faith. This month, he addressed Lenten practices.
Ash Wednesday, he explained, is a reminder both that we are children of God and that our goal is heaven.
“We can forget that,” he said, explaining the phrase from Genesis: “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Later in the show, the archbishop answers questions from children, which were recorded ahead of time, offsite, an effort led by Carolina Guevara, chief communications officer for the archdiocese.
The show — along with social media efforts led by Matt Meeks, chief digital officer for the archdiocese — extend the archbishop’s reach throughout the local church and beyond. Educating the faithful is a top priority.
“Conversion never ends,” the archbishop said in an interview with The Tidings. “The most important thing is to learn more and more and more. The more you grow in your knowledge of the faith, the more you love God and the more you love your neighbor.”
This learning isn’t just of spiritual practices, but of the church’s social and moral teachings.
“If we really knew what happened during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we would be there every day,” he said. “And we have to communicate with others the good things the Catholic Church is doing — not to brag, but to invite others to take part.”
The church can help people learn the meaning of life. It can be a “ray of light” in what can seem, to many, to be a meaningless existence.
“I’m so grateful for him,” said Rosalina Mira, a parishioner at Holy Spirit. “He’s a pastor that’s dedicated to what the church asks — to continue the mission of Jesus Christ. I pray for him every day. I know the responsibility that he carries on his shoulders.”
Another priority for the archbishop is building upon the safe environment training that’s taken place for years. The archdiocese has trained more than 1 million children and youth, and more than 200,000 adults to identify and report inappropriate behavior.
“It’s a constant concern,” the archbishop said of preventing sexual abuse. “Every child should feel and be safe.”
‘Witness to the New World of Faith’
Archbishop Gomez outlined his five pastoral priorities for evangelization in his 2012 pastoral letter, “Witness to the New World of Faith.” The priorities, which grew out of a 2003 Archdiocesan Synod, include education, Catholic identity amid cultural diversity, the culture of life, marriage and family, and vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.
“There’s no hidden agenda,” said Msgr. Joseph V. Brennan, vicar general and moderator of the curia. “There’s a forthrightness. He’s a simple, clear communicator.”
The archbishop is facing financial challenges, but Msgr. Brennan said he’s been proactive about it. The archbishop has a background in accounting.
Msgr. Brennan noted the work by Father Steve Davoren and Father Sam Ward in Office for Vocations. Twenty new seminarians continued their discernment this year — 12 at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo and eight at the Juan Diego House of Formation in Gardena.
The archbishop regularly visits St. John Seminary to spend time with seminarians. And while those trips are sure to include prayer and Mass, they often also include basketball.
The archbishop is pretty good at shooting hoops, according to his friend, Father Michael Barrett, who serves as theological advisor to the archbishop.
Father Barrett, who has known the archbishop since they served together in Houston, said his friend is not bad at tennis either. The reason why, Father Barrett said, is that he plans all his shots ahead of time.
“I like all sports,” the archbishop said. “That’s my problem.”
Archbishop Gomez has lost more than 20 pounds since January.
“I’m not sick. I lost the weight on purpose,” the archbishop assured viewers of the March 7 “Diálogo de Fe” program. “It’s good for my health — and it’s also good for my jump shot.”