Monday, April 05, 2010

El Tiempo Ha Venido -- Gomez Gets LA

SVILUPPO: Additional confirmation given... Official: press conference scheduled for 10am PT tomorrow at Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
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It is without precedent... its significance, nothing short of epic.

For the nation's approximately 30 million Hispanic Catholics, a watershed moment could come as soon as tomorrow with the appointment of one of their own as the shepherd-in-waiting of the continent's largest local church.

Echoing word given earlier today to Whispers by two church officials informed of the decision, New Advent's Kevin Knight cites unnamed sources to report tonight that, in what'll go down as his pontificate's most seismic move on these shores, Pope Benedict will name Jose Gomez, 58, archbishop of San Antonio since February 2005, as coadjutor-archbishop of Los Angeles.

In the process, the Mexican-born prelate -- the lone American bishop ordained a priest of Opus Dei -- will make history, becoming the first Hispanic prelate to, in time, receive the red hat of a cardinal at the helm of a Stateside diocese.

The appointment would bring to a close several months' worth of intense consultation and speculation since word of Cardinal Roger Mahony's request for an understudy began circulating late last year. The classic ecclesiastical "good governance" provision, a coadjutor would first spend some months learning the ropes alongside the 74 year-old cardinal before succeeding to the helm of the 5 million member local church -- its Catholic population estimated to be three-quarters Latino -- shortly after Mahony reaches the retirement age of 75 next February 27th. (Among other attributes of its wildly-diverse ethnic makeup, Los Angeles -- the nation's second-largest city -- is home to the world's largest concentration of Mexicans outside Mexico City.)

Born in Monterrey and ordained for "The Work" in 1978, Gomez served in Texas from 1987 in both Houston and San Antonio. A former executive director and president of the National Association of Hispanic Priests, in 2001 Pope John Paul II named him an auxiliary to Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver. Less than four years later, the late pontiff rocketed the young bishop into the lone senior US post customarily held by a Latin cleric, naming Gomez to San Antonio in succession to the legendary Archbishop Patrick Flores. Six months after his installation there, TIME magazine named Gomez one of the nation's 25 most influential Hispanics.

In the USCCB, the archbishop serves as chair of both the bench's Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church (one of the bishops' five national priority areas) and the body's Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America. In the latter capacity, Gomez led a three-bishop delegation to quake-ravaged Haiti to assess the situation there in early March. He's likewise already a member of a Roman dicastery, serving on the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, which is headed by the influential prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re -- the figure who would've presented a recommendation on the LA dossier to B16.

(On a related note, Gomez was originally scheduled to be traveling to Rome this Easter Week, leading a delegation from the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders (CALL) -- a group of Hispanic lay luminaries he helped found in 2007, serving as its episcopal moderator.)

A low-key, media-savvy theologian committed to the late pontiff's vision of the New Evangelization, Gomez's concept of the church was thoroughly fleshed-out weeks ago in You Will Be My Witnesses, a lengthy February pastoral letter "on the Christian Mission" published on his fifth anniversary as head of the 850,000-member San Antone church.

A close ally of (and legend among) the Hispanic community from his early priesthood when he marched alongside the famed labor leader Cesar Chavez, Mahony -- the first native-born archbishop of Los Angeles -- will celebrate a quarter-century at his hometown church's helm in mid-September. Since his June 1985 appointment, the SoCal fold has more than doubled in size.

After word of the impending move began surfacing over the weekend, multiple calls made to the LA chancery's media relations office through the day remained unreturned as of press time.

As ever, more to come.

SVILUPPO (12.40am ET): According to a colleague who tried calling, the home phone-line of at least one senior LA church official was left "off the hook" tonight.

As if the moment wasn't already memorable enough.

PHOTO: Lisa Krantz/San Antonio Express-News(1); Archdiocese of San Antonio(2)