On behalf of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and I traveled to Rome last week to meet with Pope Francis and discuss the current crisis of the Church in our country.

It was good to be with the Holy Father. And from my prayer and reflection while in Rome, I come home hopeful and with renewed confidence that the Lord continues to guide his Church in this time of trial.

More and more, I have come to see that this is the hour of the laity in the Church. As I have said, what has happened in the Church is the responsibility of bishops and priests. That is clear. But the way forward will mean lay people and clergy working together.

The truth that we are learning again in this moment is that the Church does not belong to the pope or to the cardinals or the bishops. The Church belongs to Jesus. And Jesus preached the Gospel to everyone and he entrusted the mission of his Church to everyone.

In our Lord’s vision, the Church is one body, one family. There are bishops, priests, deacons, religious, seminarians — and there are the lay faithful in every walk of life. All of us share in the Church’s mission.

This has been one of the key themes of the national “encuentros” sponsored over the years by the U.S. Catholic bishops.

This coming weekend, I will join nearly 200 Catholics from Los Angeles and thousands more from across the country, in Grapevine, Texas, where we will celebrate theNational Fifth Encuentro.

Encuentro means “encounter.” For me and other Hispanic Catholics in the United States, the encuentro process has inspired our faith and given us a greater sense of our responsibility for the mission of the Church in this country and in the continents of the Americas.  

This year’s Encuentro takes on a deeper importance in light of all that is going on in the Church.

The true beginning of the evangelization of the Americas began with the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico in 1531. We know the story, how the Virgin entrusted St. Juan Diego with a mission — to go and tell the bishop to build a church at Tepeyac. 

As I have been praying in these days, it has struck me in a new way that Jesus entrusted the mission of his Church in the Americas to a layperson. Not to a priest or a bishop. Not to a member of a religious order. He called a layperson to lead.

And it is interesting that in the history of the Church in this country, there has always been a strong sense of lay leadership.

What we need now in this moment is for the lay faithful to deepen their sense of mission and responsibility for the Church.  

Pope Francis — like Popes Paul and John Paul II and Benedict XVI before him — is calling the Church to return to her fundamental mission of proclaiming the Gospel and bringing people to know and to love Jesus Christ.  

He means all of us. To be a disciple is to be a missionary. No matter who we are, no matter what our role or status in the world, our lives are a series of encounters with other people. In these encounters, we find our “mission territory.”

All of us are called to witness to the love of Jesus Christ in our lives, no matter where we are or what we are doing. It could be at home, at school, in the workplace, in our neighborhoods, on social media.

There are 5 million Catholics in Los Angeles. If each one of us could bring just one person to an encounter with Jesus — imagine the difference it would make! And what if each of those persons could then bring one new person to know Jesus?

That is how the Church’s mission works. Not with grand programs or pastoral schemes. But person to person, heart speaking to heart.

It is important for us to remember that the Church is not like a political party or a parliament or a corporation or any other human institution.

Jesus said that those who lead the Church must be last of all and servants of all. There is no room in the Church, no room in the heart of any Christian, for arrogance or selfish ambition. Power in the Church is not about privilege — it is the power of love and service, a power that is exercised in humility.

Pray for me this week and I will be praying for you.

And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, to inspire us in our efforts to bring about a new “encuentro,” that all of us — clergy and laity — will work together in the service of God’s plan of love, his plan of salvation.

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