.- Hispanic Catholic theology and ministry should work to recover the “sense of wonder and mystery” that the first missionaries to America experienced, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles said Oct. 11.
“We need to see our country and all the Americas today through their eyes, to remember that these lands were once seen as the ‘ends of the earth,’ the final frontier of the Church’s universal saving mission. And we need to have our hearts inflamed with their same sense of personal duty for the salvation of souls and the coming of God’s Kingdom.”
“Everything we do must be measured by what it contributes or does not contribute to proclaiming Jesus Christ to the men and women of our day. We all need to see ourselves as missionaries to the brave new world of America and the Americas,” he added.
Archbishop Gomez’s comments came in the inaugural Hispanic Ministry and Theology Lecture at Loyola Marymount University. His Oct. 11 lecture was part of the university’s celebration of Latino Heritage Month.
The archbishop said Hispanic Catholics are called to be “spiritual and moral leaders” in the “new evangelization of America.” They should draw “more deeply from the wells of the missionary experience and theology of America’s ‘first evangelization.’”
This will help respond to the challenges of secularism, the loss of the sense of God, and the loss of the sense of the sanctity, meaning and purpose of human life, he said.
“America needs our Hispanic Catholic witness for the renewal of her national soul,” he stated.
“The fact is, that after only 600 years, the faith that the missionaries brought to our lands is fading,” Archbishop Gomez lamented. “America risks becoming a land that no longer knows Jesus Christ, a reality that has already happened in many of the once-Christian nations in the West.”
What Pope Benedict XVI called the “eclipse of the sense of God” is the “great sign of our times,” he continued, attributing this in part to elite groups’ “aggressive project” to “radically secularize and ‘de-Christianize’ American culture.”
In this environment, Catholics need the same “zeal for souls” as the first American missionaries.
He noted the example of the Franciscan priest Fr. Antonio Margil, who left his homeland of Spain forever in 1683 because millions of souls lacked priests to “dispel the darkness of unbelief.” The priest would walk barefoot for 40 or 50 miles a day to evangelize all over the Americas.
Archbishop Gomez also pointed out that the first colonial “patents” granted to New World explorers all speak of Jesus Christ. Florida explorer Vásquez de Ayllón, for example, received permission from the Spanish government to explore so that their inhabitants may be brought to understand the Catholic faith and to “become Christians and be saved.”
“Sadly, we know that many of the colonizers came, not as Christians but as conquerors, their hearts filled with greed and sinful ambitions,” the archbishop acknowledged. “Their cruelty and the suffering of their victims — generations of victims and atrocities — are well documented and condemned in our theologies and history.”
Despite these failures, Archbishop Gomez urged those active in Catholic theology and ministry to recover the “deeper meaning of our history,” especially Americans’ place as “children” of both the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. The period should be studied with prayer.
“We need to recover the sense of awe and possibility that inspired the first evangelization of our continents,” he said.