Friday, August 31, 2012

To be living stones of faith

Archbishop José H. Gomez
Archbishop José H. Gomez 

Every church has a story to tell. It tells the story of the people who built it. It reflects where they have come from, the times they are living in, their struggles and sacrifices, and what they are hoping for.

Every church tells a story of faith. Because people gather there as a family of faith. They gather as children of God, made brothers and sisters by their faith in Jesus Christ. And they gather in the presence of God. So every church is a house of God and also a household of faith.

It has always struck me that “church” is the name that Christians give to the buildings we worship in; but it is also the name we give to ourselves. We worship Jesus Christ in a church. And we are his church.

In the words of Jesus and the apostles’ writings, his Catholic Church is often described as a building. We are “God’s building.” We are “God’s temple” — built on the cornerstone of Jesus Christ and the foundations of his 12 apostles.

In the scriptures, St. Peter and his successors as pope are described as the “rock” upon which Christ is building his church. The apostles and their successors, the bishops, are compared to “skilled master builders.” And each one of us is a “living stone” who is called to build up the “spiritual house” of his church.

A cathedral is a very special church. Like every church, it is a house of prayer for a family of faith. It is the place where we meet the living God. But it is also something greater.

A cathedral is the bishop’s “seat” (his cathedra in Latin). And because the bishop’s ministry forms the foundation of Christ’s church on earth, every cathedral is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim and to establish.

In every age and every place, the cathedral is the first church, the mother church, and the foundation that generates and unites all the other churches in the great mission that Jesus entrusted to his church.

This weekend we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the consecration of our Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Sept. 2, 2002.

This is a very special moment in the life of our local church. And it is a moving experience for me. Because I was not here for the building of this cathedral. Yet in his grace, God has entrusted me with responsibility for this “seat.” He has called me to work with his grace and to build on the strong foundations laid by those who have gone before me.

This is the way it is in the church. We are always God’s fellow-workers. We are always working with his grace, building on foundations set down by others.

The builders of our cathedral never saw Jesus. They never talked to him. They were born 20 centuries too late for that. Yet they heard his Gospel. It came to them through the witness of others who went before them. It came to them through the “living stones” of his church, built on Christ and the foundation of the apostles.

The apostles spread the faith from Galilee and Jerusalem throughout Europe and Asia. Their successors sent missionaries to Mexico and the New World. And these missionaries evangelized California, and brought the faith to this city they named for Our Lady of the Angels.

The builders of our cathedral placed themselves in the service of this great story of salvation. And this is a task for every one of us. We are called to continue building on the foundations they laid.

God wants each one of us to be a living stone in his church. He is calling us to do our part and to participate in his great plan of redemption for the world. We are here to build for God and with God. We are here to serve the mission of his church.

As a sign of our faith as “living stones,” we are also dedicating this weekend a new Shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, located inside the cathedral.

I pray that this new shrine will serve as a sign of our dedication to the church’s mission of the new evangelization of our city and our continent.

As we pray for one another this week, let’s pray that this anniversary and this new shrine will inspire us to live our faith with new joy and new strength.

Let’s ask Our Lady of the Angels to make our cathedral — and every church in this great archdiocese — a place where the family of God is nourished, and where new generations can meet the living God and know his mercy and salvation.

 Archbishop José H. Gomez is archbishop of Los Angeles. His weekly column is provided by and appears in The Tidings, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Reach Archbishop Gomez on Facebook at www.facebook.com/archbishopgomez.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Looking ahead

By Father Perry D. Leiker

We all have choices. We can choose to do the good, or to do the bad. We can even choose the attitudes we will have.

In today's first, reading Joshua tell the people: "If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide whom you will serve."

In the Gospel, Jesus' words were too much and many "returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him." Jesus finally asked his twelve: "Do you also want to leave?"

We all have choices. But our choice is not simply to believe in Jesus or to be baptized as his disciples a kind of once-and-for-all choice. We have choices every day and all throughout the day. We choose to follow with more commitment. We choose to listen more deeply. We choose to reflect Christ in our words and actions as real witnesses. We choose to imitate Christ to live as he lived. We choose to not simply come to church but to make our lives a pilgrimage of ongoing and continual conversion. We choose this year to be more a disciple than we were last year always choosing deeper, more, greater.

If we understand and actually discover our faith growing, we will find that in this moment or that, often quite spontaneously, we can speak the words of Peter:  "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." Then, too, we will discover that the words of Jesus, his actions, his teachings, his example of living, his everything including Eucharistic presence give real, deep, inner life that is more than mortal and material. It is an inner spiritual reality that extends beyond and permeates everything. To find and to have this life is our choice, too!

Father Perry D. Leiker is St. Bernard parish administrator. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

For a justice that restores and redeems

Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

Earlier this month, I had the privilege to address an important symposium on crime and punishment in California, hosted by the California Catholic Conference at Loyola Marymount University.

More than 500 people came together to consider new approaches based on the idea of “restorative justice.”

I’ve been reflecting these past weeks on the complicated issues of how we can control crime and keep people safe — but also how we can offer those who break our laws a chance to redeem themselves and be restored to their families and society.

And that we need to acknowledge the pain, loss and sadness of the victims of crime. All too often these victims include young children, taken violently from their families.

Part of our problem today is that as a people we are sick of crime. We are outraged by the violence and disregard for human life we see in our society. This is understandable.

Our Catholic faith gives us light and leads us to a better understanding of this human reality of our society, especially regarding the importance of healing and restorative justice.

We remember, of course, that Jesus Christ was imprisoned and suffered the death penalty. And he told us that we would be judged, in part, on the compassion we show to the prisoner.

In fact, Jesus went further. He said the mercy we show to criminals reflects our love for him: “I was in prison and you visited me. … As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25: 36, 40).

Our Catholic tradition leads us to try to balance justice and mercy in dealing with those who break society’s laws. For us, punishment must be more than making criminals “pay” for their crimes.

Punishment should protect society, defend the public order, and restore harmony in the social relationships disrupted by crimes.

But our punishments must also be “medicinal.” Our punishments must contribute to the moral correction and education of criminals. We must seek to “restore” them as productive members of society.

Our archdiocesan Office of Restorative Justice oversees many projects that reflect this Catholic understanding of crime and punishment.

Through this office, we provide chaplains to the many correctional facilities located within the Archdiocese. We offer spiritual support and healing for crime victims and their families. We minister to men and women in jail. We offer spiritual assistance to their families — especially to the many children who have parents who are in prison.

This work of “restorative justice” is vital to the church’s mission of creating a city of love and truth and a culture of peace and reconciliation.

It’s not easy to love those who commit violence and other crimes.

But Jesus calls us to love our enemies. That includes those who make themselves our enemies by threatening our safety and the decency and common good of our society.

So as we pray for one another this week, let’s ask for the grace to remember that those who break our laws are still children of God.

This doesn’t mean that we forget their crimes — or their victims. It does mean that we treat criminals with dignity and respect their rights. Loving the guilty means we can never give up on them.

We need to always be seeking the conversion and repentance of criminals and those already behind bars. We need to get these people to take responsibility for their actions and to make restitution. But we also need to get them to change their lives — so they can live with the dignity and purpose for which God made them.

We know from the New Testament that God’s grace can turn even a murderous persecutor of the church like St. Paul into the greatest saint and apostle.

So let’s work to build a culture where our justice is always tempered by our mercy — and by our hope for the redemption of sinners.

And let’s pray in a very special way for the victims of violent crimes and their families, so that through the healing grace of God, they may have the strength to endure their pain, and at the same time, find forgiveness and peace of heart.

Let’s ask our Blessed Mother, the Mother of Mercy, to help us strive to build a society that reflects the justice and love of her Son.

Archbishop José H. Gomez is archbishop of Los Angeles. His weekly column is provided by and appears in The Tidings, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Reach Archbishop Gomez on Facebook at www.facebook.com/archbishopgomez.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Looking ahead

By Father Perry D. Leiker

Once again our liturgy invites us to pray Psalm 34: "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord."

Within the context of this repeated refrain the psalmist says even more specifically: "I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears."

In a beautiful liturgical song by Marty Haughen this truth is expressed thus: "Shepherd me O God beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life." Put this way, we profess a faith in our God who leads and guides us all through life and even through death. Every fear, every want, every need, every doubt, in these he wishes to be present and leading and loving us.
Some, however, lament that they cried out to God and he obviously didn't hear their prayers. The healing they sought never came. The job they needed never materialized. The solving of their problem went unresolved. Why? How come? What did I do to deserve or not to deserve this? In the short run things don’t always work out as we want them to.

But aren’t we in this for the long haul? Our race isn't 100 meters; it is the marathon! We seek what we seek and often find something else; often, something more. We begin with one dream and often discover several others along the way that are so much more than we could have ever hoped for.

If we don’t let go of plan "A" we can't be ready for or even notice plan "B." The point is that God does indeed stay with us, shepherding and guiding us all along the way. He never leaves our side. He sees us through to the end "beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life."

Father Perry D. Leiker is St. Bernard parish administrator. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In her glory, the promise of our own

Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez 

The Feast of the Assumption, which we celebrated this week, is one of my favorites in the church’s liturgical year.

Since the church’s early days, Christians have reflected on this beautiful mystery of how the Blessed Virgin Mary was “assumed” — taken up body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life.

And each of us today should remember this glorious mystery with great joy. Because where the Virgin Mary has gone, we can go, too.

In Mary’s Assumption, we celebrate the victory of the cross and resurrection. We celebrate the victory of life over death; of good over evil; of the Father of mercies over the father of lies.

The good news of Jesus Christ is that our God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living! He didn’t create the human family for destruction, but for life. He created us for the abundant life of the children of God. Death only entered his creation as the bitter fruit of the devil’s temptation and our first parents’ original sin.

But Jesus Christ destroyed the power of death once and for all by his resurrection. “For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life,” St. Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 15: 22).

Mary’s Assumption is the first “proof” that God’s promises are true.

By her Assumption we see God’s plan for the human family and we see our own personal destinies. We see that we are not born to die, but to live. We are born to be God’s beloved children. We are born to be raised to eternal life. We are born, as we confess in the Creed, for the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

This is the beautiful hope that we share as Christians.

St. Paul tells us that Jesus came in “flesh and blood” so that by sharing in our natural experience of death “he might ... deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.”

So we don’t ever have to be worried about our death or the deaths of our loved ones. Because we know that God’s love is stronger than death!

This is why we celebrate Mary’s Assumption.

Jesus said there were many rooms in his Father’s house. He went before us, passing through death and over into the new life of the Resurrection. He did this to prepare a place for us in his Father’s house in heaven.

The Bible’s last book, the Book of Revelation, shows us a glorious picture of Mary as a “great sign in heaven.” Mary is clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and wearing a crown of twelve stars.

In her glory, we see the promise of our own glory.

We know that we can follow her to heaven, if we follow in the footsteps of her Son here on earth. If we believe as Mary did, if we trust in God’s plan for our lives, then we will share in her destiny.

That means we have to really live the Gospel command to love as Jesus loved. We have to love God with all our heart and mind and strength. We have to love the people in our lives with the love of God.

This is how Mary lived.

In the Gospels, Mary is presented to us as a model for how we should follow Jesus as his disciples, making our pilgrim journey to our Father’s house.

We all remember the beautiful story of the Visitation, when Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. This story, which we remember when we pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, should be a source of reflection and prayer for us. Because it reveals Mary’s “missionary heart.”

We are called to live with this same heart, with the same desire that Mary had — to share the joy of Jesus Christ with our brothers and sisters.

Mary carried Jesus Christ to Elizabeth. And when she was there, Mary sang her beautiful song of the Magnificat. She “magnified” the Lord. That means she proclaimed the great things God had done for her.

That’s how we want to live.

So let us pray for one another this week. Let’s pray that we will all carry Jesus to others and “magnify” God in our own lives. Like Mary, we want to bear witness to his goodness and love — in our homes, at work, in society.

May Mary teach us to listen to the word of God as she did. And may she teach us to respond with a generous heart. So that we may we share in her destiny of eternal life in heaven.

Archbishop José H. Gomez is archbishop of Los Angeles. His weekly column is provided by and appears in The Tidings, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Reach Archbishop Gomez on Facebook at www.facebook.com/archbishopgomez

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

USCCB Labor Day statement 2012: 'Placing work and workers at the center of economic life'

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire
By Bishop Stephen E. Blaire 

This Labor Day, our country continues to struggle with a broken economy that is not producing enough decent jobs. Millions of Americans suffer from unemployment, underemployment or are living in poverty as their basic needs too often go unmet. This represents a serious economic and moral failure for our nation. As people of faith, we are called to stand with those left behind, offer our solidarity, and join forces with "the least of these" to help meet their basic needs. We seek national economic renewal that places working people and their families at the center of economic life.

The broken economy leaves too many without decent work

Officially over 12 million workers are looking for work but cannot find a job and millions more have actually given up seeking employment. Millions more are underemployed; they are willing and able to work full time, but there are not enough jobs available. Over 10 million families are "working poor" — they work hard, but their jobs do not pay enough to meet their basic needs. The sad fact is that over 46 million people live in poverty and, most disturbingly, over 16 million children grow up poor in our nation. The link between joblessness and poverty is undeniable, as Pope Benedict points out: "In many cases, poverty results from a violation of the dignity of human work, either because work opportunities are limited (through unemployment or underemployment), or "because a low value is put on work and the rights that flow from it, especially the right to a just wage and to the personal security of the worker and his or her family" (Caritas in Veritate, no. 63).

Public officials rightfully debate the need to reduce unsustainable federal deficits and debt. In the current political campaigns, we hear much about the economy, but almost nothing about the moral imperative to overcome pervasive poverty ina nation still blessed with substantial economic resources and power.

These harsh economic realities bring terrible human costs for millions of families, who live with anxiety and uncertainty and cope with stagnant or falling wages. Many are forced to work second or third jobs, which places further strain on their children's well-being, and millions of young adults are denied the ability to begin families. These people are not abstractions: they are fellow parishioners and our neighbors; our cousins, aunts, and uncles; our brothers and sisters; our mothers and fathers; possibly our own children. The economy should help families thrive, not place additional pressures on them.

This broken economy also contributes to the danger that workers will be exploited or mistreated in other ways. For example, many employees struggle for just wages, a safe workplace, and a voice in the economy, but they cannot purchase the goods they make, stay in the hotels they clean, or eat the food they harvest, prepare, or serve. Immigrants and their families are especially vulnerable, which highlights the urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform.

The Catholic bishops of the United States, through our Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), provide help and hope to exploited and mistreated working people. MRS helps workers who have fled their home countries with the promise of employment, only to find themselves forced to work long hours in dangerous jobs. CCHD supports groups throughout the country that empower working people to raise their voices and regain wages that have been taken from them, demand fair treatment, and seek greater economic opportunity. The broken economy also places additional strain on other Catholic organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, that struggle to fulfill our Gospel mandate in the face of increased demand and fewer resources.

The exploitation of working people, whether subtle or obvious, injures their humanity and denies their inherent dignity. Exploited and mistreated workers require our care and solidarity. An economy that allows this exploitation and abuse demands our attention and action. As the bishops point out in the Catholic Framework for Economic Life, "By our choices, initiative, creativity, and investment, we enhance or diminish economic opportunity, community life, and social justice." We should ask: How do we contribute to forces that threaten the human dignity of vulnerable workers? How can our choices in economic and public life enhance their lives, pursue economic justice, and promote opportunity?

A call for economic renewal and support for workers

Our nation needs an economic renewal that places workers and their families at the center of economic life and creates enough decent jobs for everyone who can work. Work is more than a paycheck; it helps raise our families, develop our potential, share in God's creation, and contribute to the common good.

Everyone and every institution has a role to play in building a more just economy. In the words of our Conference, we seek an economy that serves the person rather than the other way around.Blessed John Paul II said: "... society and the State must ensure wage levels adequate for the maintenance of the worker and his family, including a certain amount for savings. This requires a continuous effort to improve workers' training and capability so that their work will be more skilled and productive, as well as careful controls and adequate legislative measures to block shameful forms of exploitation, especially to the disadvantage of the most vulnerable workers, of immigrants and of those on the margins of society. The role of trade unions in negotiating minimum salaries and working conditions is decisive in this area" (Centesimus Annus, no. 15).

Unions and other worker associations have a unique and essential responsibility in this needed economic renewal. Our church has long taught that unions are "an indispensable element of social life, especially in modern industrialized societies" (Laborem Exercens, No. 20) and are examples of the traditional Catholic principles of solidarity and subsidiarity in action. At their best, unions demonstrate solidarity by bringing workers together to speak and act collectively to protect their rights and pursue the common good. Unions are a sign of subsidiarity by forming associations of workers to have a voice, articulate their needs, and bargain and negotiate with the large economic institutions and structures of government.

Like other institutions, including religious, business and civic groups, unions sometimes fall short of this promise and responsibility. Some union actions can contribute to excessive polarization and intense partisanship, can pursue positions that conflict with the common good, or can focus on just narrow self-interests. When labor institutions fall short, it does not negate Catholic teaching in support of unions and the protection of working people, but calls out for a renewed focus and candid dialogue on how to best defend workers. Indeed, economic renewal that places working people and their families at the center of economic life cannot take place without effective unions. This renewal requires business, religious, labor, and civic organizations to work together to help working people defend their dignity, claim their rights, and have a voice in the workplace and broader economy.

Building a more just economy

In this time of economic turmoil and uncertainty, we need to reflect on the moral and human dimensions of too much poverty and not enough work. We are called to work together — business, labor, and government — to build a productive economy that offers opportunity, creates jobs, generates growth, protects the dignity of working people, respects the family, and promotes genuine human development.

The relative silence of candidates and their campaigns on the moral imperative to resist and overcome poverty is both ominous and disheartening. Despite unacceptable levels of poverty, few candidates and elected officials speak about pervasive poverty or offer a path to overcome it. We need to hear from those who seek to lead this country about what specific steps they would take to lift people out of poverty. In this election year, Catholics should review and act on what the U.S. bishops said on economic issues in "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship": "Economic decisions and institutions should be assessed according to whether they protect or undermine the dignity of the human person. Social and economic policies should foster the creation of jobs for all who can work with decent working conditions and just wages. Barriers to equal pay and employment for women and those facing unjust discrimination must be overcome. Catholic social teaching supports the right of workers to choose whether to organize, join a union, and bargain collectively, and to exercise these rights without reprisal. It also affirms economic freedom, initiative, and the right to private property. Workers, owners, employers, and unions should work together to create decent jobs, build a more just economy, and advance the common good" (No. 76).

Our Conference of Bishops is developing a pastoral reflection on work, poverty, and a broken economy. This modest reflection will draw heavily from Pope Benedict's powerful encyclicals, will communicate our solidarity with those who have been left behind, and will call for prayer, education, discussion and action. It will be an example of responding to the call of Pope Paul VI to the laity: "... to take the initiatives freely and to infuse a Christian spirit into the mentality, customs, laws and structures of the community in which they live. Let each one examine himself, to see what he has done up to now, and what he ought to do. It is not enough to recall principles, state intentions, point to crying injustice and utter prophetic denunciations; these words will lack real weight unless they are accompanied for each individual by a livelier awareness of personal responsibility and by effective action" (Octogesima Adveniens, No. 48).

This Labor Day, millions of working people and their families have urgent and compelling needs. I ask you to join me in a special prayer for them and all workers, especially those without a job struggling to live in dignity. May God guide our nation in creating a more just economy that truly honors the dignity of work and the rights of workers.

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire is bishop of Stockton, California, and chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Reach him at (209) 466-0636.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Looking ahead

By Father Perry D. Leiker

One of our very beautiful psalm responses with unusually beautiful musical renderings is today's response which reads: "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord."

It is either an unusual mix of metaphors or an admission that the goodness of the Lord is so great that neither tasting nor seeing is enough —— only both will do. It also calls forth a very Eucharistic image since we do indeed eat (taste) and see (the host) when we receive. In fact the minister holds the host before our eyes saying "Body of Christ," to which we respond, "Amen" — then we eat!

Elijah, on his long and tiring journey, was at the point of starvation and was ready to "give up his spirit" — that is, ready to die. God, however, in his goodness gave the food he needed for his journey, and Elijah clearly experienced the goodness of the Lord – "taste and see"!

Jesus, in the Gospel, offers himself as food for the journey of life: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." The people knew Jesus as neighbor but did not know him as Lord. His words were a scandal to them rather than an invitation to faith. We eat the host and drink from the cup believing that we have received the Lord — his is our bread of life and cup of salvation!

When we truly receive Christ and experience his presence within it is no wonder we are able to sing out with faith and confidence and gratitude: "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord."

Father Perry D. Leiker is St. Bernard parish administrator. Reach him at (323) 255-6142.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Father Roberto J. Pérez of Cross International Catholic Outreach to speak at all Masses this weekend

Father Roberto Pérez
This weekend, Father Roberto J. Pérez will be visiting our parish to speak at all the Masses on behalf of Cross International Catholic Outreach.

Cross International Catholic Outreach was founded to create a meaningful link between parishes in America and the priests and nuns serving the church overseas in the Caribean, Africa, Asia, Central and South America.

Projects include relief for earthquake, flood and tsunami victims; care and education for orphans and other vulnerable children; housing for the homeless; medicines and health care for the indigent; food for families suffering extreme malnutrition; and clean water for communities that have none, as well as micro-enterprise programs and other long-term development efforts to break the cycle of poverty.

For more information on Cross International Catholic Outreach's worldwide projects, call (800) 914-242, or visit www.crosscatholic.org.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Looking ahead

By Father Perry D. Leiker 

Imagine being so hungry you would prefer to return to living in slavery where you could expect to eat at least once a day. That seems better than starving.

But imagine crying out to God, complaining to him; and he listens, responds, and sends food daily. At night quail fill the camp. At morning, bread rains down from heaven. All he asks is that they "follow my instructions." Now in Jesus' time, the people come to him because they are hungry for food and for spiritual food. They want healing. They want hope. They want understanding and signs – yes, signs like their ancestors had. But do they want to grow into a people who really know God and listen to the word of God? Do they want to become God's people in a way that God's goodness, justice, peace and compassion live in their words and actions?

Hungering and thirsting for the living God means opening heart and soul and discovering the living Word that transforms our way of living. Knowing God means beginning to live and look like God. So they said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst." The bread we seek is more than the host. It is in and through the host (bread) that we meet Christ, experience Christ and find are deepest hungers and thirsts satisfied.

Father Perry D. Leiker is St. Bernard parish adminstrator. Reach him at (323) 255-6142.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The mission of Guadalupe

Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez 

I hope many of you will be able to join me this Sunday for the “Guadalupe Celebration” being held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The event is being co-sponsored by the archdiocese and the Knights of Columbus. It will feature speeches and performances; the rosary; and a procession with veneration of a relic from the miraculous tilma imprinted with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

For me, this celebration will be a good chance to thank God for Our Lady of Guadalupe’s maternal love — not only in my life but also in the destinies of the peoples of the Americas.

When Mary appeared on the hillside in Tepeyac, outside Mexico City, on that December morning in 1531, it was less than a generation after Christopher Columbus and his voyages of discovery.

It was a Saturday morning, not yet dawn, and St. Juan Diego was heading off to his weekly catechism class, which was taught by his local priest. It was Dec. 9, the day when the church used to celebrate the Immaculate Conception.

As he made his way over the hill, St. Juan Diego heard a sound like the singing of birds. And then he saw her. The beautiful Virgin, with the face of a meztiza, a mix of Spanish and native features.

She told him she wanted him to build a church, a sacred place where she could reveal her Son to the people of the New World. She said: I want very much that they build my sacred little house here — in which I will show him [Jesus]. I will exalt him upon making him manifest. I will give him to all people in all my personal love.

Our Lady of Guadalupe came to build a church. But not only a building. She came to build the church, the family of God in America.

And within several decades of that December day in Tepeyac, all of Latin America had become devoutly Catholic! Our Catholic faith spread to millions in North America, the Caribbean, and the Philippines and from there even farther.

In God’s plan of salvation, Mexico became the cradle of Christianity in the New World.

But, as Mary told Juan Diego, she did not come only to convert Mexico, or only the people of the New World. She came to give Jesus to all people in her personal love.

The mission of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the mission of Tepeyac, continues in our day.

As Pope Benedict XVI said during his visit to Mexico earlier this year, Our Lady of Guadalupe is “the Star of both the original and the new evangelization ... the continental mission which is now taking place across these noble lands” of the Americas.

The mission of Tepeyac continues in each one of us! Our Lady of Guadalupe is calling each of us to build her church, just as she called St. Juan Diego.

This is what the new evangelization is all about. It is a new continental mission — to bring Jesus to all the nations and peoples of the Americas. The mission to make this a new world of faith, a new world filled with the light of Jesus Christ and his Gospel.

We live in a world where love for God is growing cold in many hearts. So many people have just forgotten about God. So many people are living as if he doesn’t matter.

Our world needs new witnesses! And we are the ones who are called to carry the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe to our world today. We are called to find a new place for Jesus Christ in the hearts of our brothers and sisters.

Evangelization is always the work of God! Our duty is to try to do God’s will in our lives. Our duty is to allow ourselves to be his instruments, to allow him to use us to carry out his loving plans.

That’s one of the lessons of the first evangelization. Through the grace of God and the faith of one humble, ordinary man, St. Juan Diego — who heard the voice of the Virgin and made himself an instrument of God — the New World came to know Christ.

So let’s pray for one another this week. Let’s ask Our Lady of Guadalupe to move our hearts to a new conversion. To a new commitment to our responsibility for the continental mission of his Catholic Church.

And may Holy Mary of Guadalupe, through her maternal inspiration and intercession, obtain for us the graces we need to help us all to be better instruments of the love of God. So that everyone in our world may come to know him and to love him.

Archbishop José H. Gomez is archbishop of Los Angeles. His weekly column is provided by and appears in The Tidings, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Reach Archbishop Gomez on Facebook at www.facebook.com/archbishopgomez