His election is historic, but it was no surprise. Gomez became vice president of the conference, a central organizing body of almost 200 Catholic bishops with more than 300 employees, in 2016. The vice president is traditionally elected to the top job, so Gomez knew his election was likely.
But, he told CNA, the real surprise was becoming vice president three years ago.
“I was not expecting to be the president. Some people put my name forward for election as vice president [in 2016].”
“To my surprise I was elected vice president, then once you are the vice president, it is more likely that they elect you president. The whole process was a surprise to me, but I see that God is asking me to do it, and I just pray that with the grace of God I can do a good job.”
Gomez laughed, noting that he had never expected to become a Denver auxiliary bishop in in 2001, the Archbishop of San Antonio in 2004, or in 2010 head of the Los Angeles archdiocese, the largest local Church in the country.
The archbishop told CNA that his goal is to “try to live what I preach, and then, also, my ministry to the people — that’s the most important thing.”
His ministry, he said, includes serving “my brother bishops, priests, deacons, and also the lay faithful. Because really my vocation started with ministry to lay faithful.”
Gomez acknowledged that he spends a great deal of time on administrative responsibilities, and will have more of them as his term as president begins. But he said that even amid those responsibilities, and even while exercising them, he has time to build the pastoral relationships he finds so fulfilling.
“The fact that I am the Archbishop of Los Angeles gives me a beautiful opportunity to be with the people, because there are so many people active in the Church in Los Angeles. And also in the conference of bishops, really what’s its all about it serving the people, so I hope that I can have the opportunity to be with people, in events where people are, and that I can continue to be a pastor which is, I believe, my vocation.”
Gomez is the first bishop elected to lead the conference to be associated with Opus Dei, a Church group, founded in Spain and supported by Pope St. John Paul, that focuses on finding holiness in everyday life, and on the call to holiness of lay Catholics. The archbishop became affiliated with Opus Dei as a college student, and was a priest in the organization, formally called a personal prelature.
The archbishop’s vision of the Church, focused on collaboration and friendship between laity and clerics, and on the idea that everyone should be a saint, is informed by his experience in Opus Dei.
“The spirituality of Opus Dei,” he told CNA, “basically is to strive for holiness— personal sanctification — and ministry. Sharing our faith with everybody else.”
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“Most of the members of Opus Dei are lay faithful living their lives and working and trying to share the faith and to be holy.”
“Everybody, starting with the pope and going through every single bishop, and priest, and deacon, we all are called to strive for holiness, with the universal call to holiness, provided to us by the Second Vatican Council, and also, as Pope Francis is insisting that we should be missionary disciples, so that means sharing our faith with everybody else,” he added.
Gomez told CNA that groups like Opus Dei, along with other Church movements like the NeoCatechumenal Way and Communion and Liberation that have gained popularity in recent decades, emphasize “the universal call to holiness making a reality in the life of the Church.”
“All of those different institutions that are promoting the vocation of the lay faithful are a blessing for the Church.”
“By the work of the Holy Spirit there have been in the universal Church many groups of people working as a movement just to bring the beauty of the Chirstian life to the presence of the lay faithful all over the world,” Gomez added, comparing Church movements to the diversity of ministries and apostolates in parishes, which he called “the center of Christian life in the United States.”
The archbishop said that in his own ministry as a bishop, he looks to the example of Pope St. John Paul II, and, that among American bishops, he has been influenced and inspired by a number of bishops.