Last week, I was in Baltimore for the annual meeting of the bishops of the United States, and I was elected to serve as president of the bishops’ conference for the next three years.
It is an honor and I am humbled by my brother bishops’ support and confidence in me.
There has been a lot of talk about the fact that I am the first Latino to lead the bishops’ conference. But this election was not only about me — it is a reflection of the growing diversity of the Church in this country, and I also think it is a reflection of what we are doing here in Los Angeles.
Certainly, the bishops recognize the presence and importance of Latinos in the Church and in our nation. With their strong faith and love for family, Latinos are leaders in our parishes, schools, and communities.
We saw that during the four-year process of the “Fifth Encuentro.” Thousands of Latinos, and more than 100 bishops from nearly 150 dioceses, took part in this amazing nationwide effort of evangelization and renewal.
But the Church is universal; that is what the word “catholic” means. We see this in the amazing diversity of the local Church here in Los Angeles. But more and more, the face of the Church is changing in dioceses across the country.
This is a beautiful thing. Jesus Christ intends his Church to be a home for all people, God’s family on earth, with children of God from every race and culture, every nationality and language all following him and living as brothers and sisters.
This is the only reason the Church exists: for this great mission of calling the family of God into being, building God’s kingdom on Earth. Again, I see that in Los Angeles: The missionary spirit is alive here in our churches and ministries and schools, in our homes and communities.
In interviews this week, I am getting asked a lot about my “vision” for the Church. It is a good, sincere question. But I’m not sure it is the right question.
The Church does not belong to any archbishop, even the president of the bishops’ conference. The Church does not belong to any of us. She belongs to Jesus, the Church is his Body and Bride.
And Jesus gave his Church only one mission and one identity: to tell the world about his life and what he has done for us, and to help them know that Jesus is the way that leads to the truth about their lives, to the love and happiness that they long for.
We are called to be people who evangelize, disciples who are missionaries. Every one of us. This is our identity as Catholics and this is the true nature of the Church. And our mission is urgent.
The society we live in is highly secularized and this is a moment in our culture where there is real confusion about the meaning of human life and freedom. The sense of the sacred has been lost, and there are many competing narratives now about how to find happiness and what is essential in life.
The duty of the Church is to reach out to those who are no longer practicing any religion and also to those who come to church regularly but may not be sure what it means to be Catholic, or what the Church teaches and why.
We need to find new ways to propose Jesus Christ as the answer to the questions that every person holds in their hearts and minds. We need to call every man and woman to experience the full beauty of the gospel, the joy and newness of life that we have in Jesus Christ. We need to call them to find their home in the Church, in the saving mysteries of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.
So, my “vision” is that we work together — priests, deacons, seminarians, consecrated men and women, lay people in every walk of life — all of us seeking to do God’s will, spreading the good news of Jesus and his salvation and calling everyone to holiness.
Of course, all this is possible only by God’s grace, and only in union with Christ’s vicar on Earth, our Holy Father Pope Francis.
The pope is leading us and calling all of us in the Church to rediscover this idea: that God has created us, and in baptism has given us a part to play in his plan of salvation — to be missionary disciples.
So, pray for me this week, as I take on this new responsibility. And please know that you are in my prayers, too.
I entrust these next three years to the maternal care of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
May she intercede for us and inspire every Catholic to follow Jesus with deep love and a true desire to share his message of salvation with the people of our time.