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Catholics applaud naming of Latino archbishop to head L.A. Archdiocese [Updated]

April 6, 2010 | 12:23 pm

Catholics around Southern California expressed joy Tuesday at the announcement that Archbishop Jose Gomez, from San Antonio, will replace Cardinal Roger Mahony when he retires next year as head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Rev. Carlos Leon, parochial vicar of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Santa Ana, said he has followed Gomez’s work in Texas and credited him with bringing many people to the priesthood. He hopes Gomez will be able to do the same in Los Angeles, especially with the city’s large Latino population.

"He will be able to reach out to more Spanish speakers because he will be able to understand us more deeply," Leon said. "He knows our roots."

"We have to pray for him," Leon said. "We have to be pious and to pray for his success."

Maria de Los Angeles-Garcia, 83, and her husband Eusebi Ramirez, 68, who were attending noon mass at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church, known as “La Placita,” also expressed strong support for Gomez.

The couple said they were thrilled that Gomez was Latino and believed he would restore order and help rid the church of the problems that have long plagued it, such as the priest sex abuse scandals that have chased away members.

“I’m very happy” Gomez is Latino, said Maria, who added that she had been praying for a Latino archbishop, “someone saint enough to clean house.”

Jorge Contreras, 68, who has worked as a church security guard for 20 years, said he was surprised when he heard the news that the new archbishop was Latino.

“For him, it’s a great thing,” he said. “But not just for him, but for all Hispanics. We need change. We need someone who is going to understand our roots and culture and I think he’s that kind of person.”

Salvador Landa, an administrator of the Saint Anne Church in Santa Ana, said Gomez would attract more people to the church, not just because he is Spanish-speaking but because he has a deep understanding of the Latino culture.

“Cardinal Mahony spoke Spanish very well, but I think having a person coming from a Latin culture would make a difference,” Landa said.

He pointed out Gomez’s comments in his first news conference in Los Angeles signaling his support for comprehensive immigration reform.

“See, being Hispanic, since he knows the needs of the people, he will want to help people where they are at. He knows where people are coming from,” Landa said. “I used to be undocumented myself, a long time ago. I can connect to people because I know where they’re coming from.”

At the same time, Landa said, Gomez has shown that he is able to reach more than just the Spanish-speaking communities.

“What’s more important is that the new archbishop has the leadership, talent and abilities to lead the multicultural community in Los Angeles,” he said. “Being Catholic, masses are said in so many languages in Los Angeles. What’s important for the archbishop is that he can help grow their faith.”

Landa’s church in Santa Ana is more than 90% Latino, he said, with six out of 11 masses in Spanish.

[Updated: 1:15 p.m.: At La Placita, Eliva Lopez, 46, who was with her 5-year-old son, Sahird Gonzalez, said Gomez's appointment would help strengthen ties with the Latino community.

Like Mahony, she said, Gomez would help all immigrants, particularly Latinos. But more importantly, she said, she hopes that Gomez will help address the priest sex abuse scandal that has hurt the church.

"Let's hope the changes are positive," Lopez said. "Forward, forward, forward and never backwards."

Dominic Luong, an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Orange, worked with Gomez when he was the first chairperson of the Committee on Church Diversity that was part of the Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Luong said Gomez faced many challenges in figuring out how to integrate and unite many different cultures within the Catholic Church.

“As chairperson, he has worked very hard to create a structure for this new committee that could be very inclusive and where we can all work together to build up unity in diversity," he said, "which means many cultures under one church and one God.”

In her 49-years of service for the Catholic Church, Mother Maria Luz Gonzalez, 66, said the announcement of Mahony's successor being a Latino was an overwhelming surprise.

"I'm very happy, but also sad that Mahony will soon leave," Luz said. "But yes, I'm thrilled because he is Hispanic and there is a large Catholic community here that is mostly Hispanic. It was a great choice."

If Gomez becomes a cardinal, she said, that could spell even bigger things for him in the future.

"He may one day be the next pope if that happens," Luz said.]

-- My Thuan Tran in Orange County and Ruben Vives in Los Angeles

Photo: Archbishop Jose Gomez of San Antonio takes questions from the media at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Credit: Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press


Photos: Archbishop Jose Gomez

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