(Archbishop José H. Gomez kicked off Los Angeles’ observance of the historic V Encuentro on Jan. 27 with an address to more than 1,000 Latinos at the Pasadena Convention Center. The following is adapted from his remarks, which were delivered in Spanish and English.)

We stand before this cross — “La Cruz de los Encuentros.” This is where our journey has led us — the journey of our lives, and our journey as Latino Catholics from Los Angeles and throughout the Americas.

This cross reminds us that every life must become a “cross-roads” — every life must become a “way of the cross.” The path of every life leads to this intersection where we encounter Jesus, just as the first disciples did on the road to Emmaus in the story we have from St. Luke’s Gospel.

In his love, in his mercy, Jesus wants to draw near to every one of us on our journey. He wants to go with us along the way of our life. Like those disciples on the road to Emmaus, sometimes we are too distracted — we might be hurt, wounded by life’s disappointments — and our eyes are prevented from recognizing him.

But Jesus draws near to be with us, no matter what point we are at on the road of life. We may be sunk in despair or lost like the prodigal son in sin and bad living. But Jesus comes to seek us out.

Today, in this moment, Jesus comes to us once more. So, we need to give our hearts again to him. We need to invite him into our lives, just as those first disciples did when they said, “Stay with us.”

We need to allow his words of love once more to burn in our hearts. We need to join our lives to his life in the Eucharist, to let him open our eyes to know him “in the breaking of the bread.”

As those first disciples did, today we need to take up our cross and walk behind Jesus, following him as he carries his cross before us.

Two years ago, during his pilgrimage to the United States, I had the joy to present Pope Francis with “La Cruz de los Encuentros” on behalf of all Latino Catholics in this country and throughout the Americas.

This cross we stand before today is intended to be a replica of that Encuentro Cross, which symbolizes the national Encuentros sponsored over the years by the Catholic bishops of this country.

For me, and for many in my generation, the experience of the Encuentro inspired our faith and gave us a great sense of our responsibility as Latinos to be leaders in the Church and leaders in the new evangelization of our country.

And this is what this Fifth Encuentro is all about. As Latinos we are called to be the leaders of our Church.

We are not newcomers or latecomers or outliers. The first Catholics in this country were Latinos from Spain and from Mexico! Never forget that, my brothers and sisters!

Pope Francis came to this country as the first pope from Latin America and the first pope to speak Spanish as his native language. And when he came to this country, the first thing he did was to canonize our first Latino saint — St. Junípero Serra, the great missionary founder of California and the United States. 

Pope Francis did that to stir our hearts, to stir our memories and our pride. The pope is calling us to remember who we are and where we came from as Latinos.

It was Latino missionaries like St. Junípero who led the first “encuentro” — the first encounter of the peoples of this country with Jesus Christ.

But this Encuentro is not just about Latinos! It is about the whole Church coming together — men and women, black and white, Latinos, Africans, Asians, Europeans, the peoples of Oceania, all the beautiful diversity that makes up the family of God here in Los Angeles and throughout the United States.

We are all called to live as children of God and to proclaim Christ as missionary disciples.

The disciples at Emmaus set out at once to tell everyone of their encounter with Jesus Christ. This is our task now. This is the call of this Fifth Encuentro.

Let us walk behind Jesus and take up our cross, following him and bringing the people of our times to a new encounter with Jesus Christ and the mercy and love of God.  

Let us reach out especially to those who are on the “peripheries” — the homeless and the immigrant, the sick and the suffering, the child waiting to be born, the prisoner hoping for a second chance.

Let us walk together with Jesus and bring our nation and our world to the new encounter with Jesus Christ.

This is where the path of our lives has led us — to this Fifth Encuentro. I pray that this will truly be for all of us a new encounter with Jesus. And may our Blessed Mother, the Virgin of Guadalupe, watch over you with her tender love.

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