Archbishop Gomez paints sobering picture of Los Angeles

He cites homelessness, poverty, widespread abortion, family breakdown and 1 million undocumented immigrants in June 4 talk about polarization at Georgetown University

Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, Helen Alvare, a law professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School in Arlington, Va., moderator John Carr, Sister Teresa Maya, a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word and president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, speak during a June 4 public dialogue about “Overcoming Polarization in a Divided Nation Through Catholic Social Thought.” The event was held at Georgetown University in Washington. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

I am honored to be here to talk about these important issues of Catholic social teaching. 

And I want to begin our conversation with a brief snapshot of our experience in Los Angeles. 

As you know, we are the largest Catholic community in the country. We cover a territory about the size of New Jersey —  we have about 5 million Catholics in an overall population of 11 million. 

Our churches are filled with people who come from other nations. Every day we carry out our ministries in more than 40 languages.  

Our Church is young and it is daily growing. Just to give you a sense: in Los Angeles we baptize about 60,000 infants every year. That is more than the total number of infant baptisms in Chicago and New York combined. 

I tell people: if you want to see what the Church will look like in the future, you should come to Los Angeles. 

But my friends, there is another side to LA, a more sobering set of statistics. 

Every night in the Los Angeles area, we have 55,000 people who have no place to call home. They are sleeping on sidewalks and under bridges, in parking lots in their cars. There are “tent cities” now in many of our neighborhoods, even in the suburbs. The fastest growing category of homeless is children. 

In the shadow of our Cathedral downtown, we have one of the world’s largest prisons. All told, we have about 20,000 men and women behind bars, the vast majority are black and Latino.

And just down the road from the Cathedral, in a neighborhood that is almost entirely Spanish-speaking, there are nine abortion clinics within a one-mile radius. Sadly, they are busy. More abortions are performed in Los Angeles than any city except New York — and most of the women targeted are poor and minorities. 

Everywhere we see signs of the breakdown of marriage and the family. We have 30,000 kids in the LA foster care system. 

Nearly 20 percent of the people in Los Angeles live below the poverty line. And every day it seems like the distance is growing between those who have what they need to lead a dignified life, and those who do not. 

We see this in obvious and also not-so-obvious ways — like the high rates of pollution and groundwater contamination in our poorest communities. 

Finally, there are more than 1 million undocumented immigrants in Los Angeles. And every day we deal with the realities of deportations. That means mothers and fathers being torn from their homes, from their children and loved ones. 

So, that is a snapshot of Los Angeles “by the numbers.” And of course, for those of us in the Church, every one of these “numbers” represents a soul who has been made in the image of our Creator and redeemed by the sacrifice of God’s only Son. 

The point I want to make is this: The issues we deal with in Los Angeles are unique only in scale. Every day in every city across the country, Catholic communities confront these same types of injustice and insults to human dignity. 

The question we all face is this: where do we start in the face of so much human misery?  How do we set priorities, what criteria are we going to use? How do we change our society so there is less suffering, less injustice?

We are living in a society where God no longer matters and the human person is on the verge of being forgotten too. The sense of our great dignity as children of God, the sense of God’s loving design for creation and the divine meaning of our lives — all of this is fading from the hearts and minds of this generation. 

Friends, in this moment — as a Church, as Christians — we need to be united in the urgent mission of proclaiming and defending the mystery of the human person in our times. 

This is the central task for Catholic social teaching today. Even more, it is a challenge for our whole project of the new evangelization. 

This is a call to you and to me — to everyone in the Church. We need to be thinking in new ways about our identity and mission as Christians, as followers of Christ.  

The Church exists to evangelize. Period. There is no other reason for the Church. We are not called to be social workers or advocates. We are called to be apostles and saints. 

Our mission is to share the good news that Jesus has revealed to us — about who God is and how much he loves us; about who we are, and the way he has shown us to live. 

In our work of evangelization, we need to be careful that our message does not get tangled up in politics or today’s fashionable ideas about happiness or “well-being.”   

We are not here to provide solutions to problems in society. What we proclaim is true liberation — the pathway that leads to eternal life. 

Blessed Oscar Romero was martyred for his defense of human rights and social justice. But when you read his homilies, it is striking how often he speaks out against abortion, artificial contraception, and divorce. 

In fact, I was reading one his homilies the other day, and I want to share this thought with you. Blessed Romero said: “Matrimonial fidelity and the morality of preserving the life that begins in the womb of a woman are ancient themes, not new ones. And the Church must defend them even if it means losing applause and being attacked by the public.” 

Friends, in our defense of the human person, we need to remember what Blessed Romero and all the saints know.  If we want to promote the sanctity and dignity of the human person in our times, then we also must protect the sanctity and permanence of married love and promote the beauty of family life. 

We also need to have a special care to defend the most vulnerable. 

In the logic of God’s love, the weakest and most vulnerable in society must always be our priority in the Church. That is why abortion will always be the fundamental social injustice and priority in the Church — because it means the direct killing of the most defenseless members in the human family. 

But like the saints, we cannot stop there. We need to fight for the human person. We need to defend the sanctity and dignity of the person everywhere and to work for his salvation.

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  1. The cause of the social blight in Los Angeles is a Democrat-controlled state, county and city. When Californians and Angelinos figure that out, the state will begin to improve.

    It’s rich for the archbishop to say, “We are not called to be social workers or advocates. We are called to be apostles and saints. Our mission is to share the good news that Jesus has revealed to us — about who God is and how much he loves us; about who we are, and the way he has shown us to live. In our work of evangelization, we need to be careful that our message does not get tangled up in politics or today’s fashionable ideas….” Just about everything he and his fellow CA bishops do and say is tangled up with leftist politics. Let’s see what how long it…

    • Anonymous says:

      agree. Leftist policies and a deep blue state exacerbate the problems. Many Catholics continue to vote for these pro-abortionist politicians who continue to enslave their supporters with big government “solutions”.

  2. Charles Mangerian says:

    Always great to hear from Archbishop Gomez. His words are direct and a call to action for Catholics. Thank God for his prioritizing the right to life of the unborn! Homelessness, prisons, and immigration are a different story. Much of the problem is with immigration, first and following generations. Swift, severe punishment means fewer criminals. Employer sanctions, swift deportation and end to subsidies and “birthright citizenship” will solve that problem. The Church must forcefully oppose the demographic make over of America and affirm that Church teaching doesn’t require nations to grant citizenship and welfare benefitsfor third world residents who desire them.

  3. Irene Ramirez says:

    Mother Teresa once said the greatest destroyer of peace was abortion. I believe the sad condition of L.A. is the politics and the promotion of abortion. It will only get worse because the politicians are too busy helping themselves, their pockets and Planned Parenthood.
    Thank you Archbishop for opening our eyes to the abhorrent condition of L.A and thus the state of California. Let’s see how many of the ‘elite’ movie stars and citizens of the state step up to the plate.

  4. Bob One says:

    Charles Mangerian, you certainly have a way with words, some even to obfuscate. When you call for the church to oppose the demographic makeover of the country, you obviously have a definition in mind – do you mean white? Do you mean non-christian? What do you mean? I’m old enough to remember crosses being burned on churchyards because people didn’t want Catholics in their town. I remember police using fire hoses and dogs to prevent citizens from peaceful marches. The United States is not a country of just one kind of person. We have been a melting pot for years. When it comes to “birthright citizenship,” I suggest that you reads the constitution of the US. If you are born here, you are a citizen regardless of the circumstances. Christ…

    • Elizabeth M. says:

      Bob One – That is a total misrepresentation of the constitution. That amendmnent was put in place to protect former slaves from being re enslaved. It was not meant for the current abuse.

  5. Cassandra says:

    Yes, by all means come to Los Angeles to see the “Church of the future”. It will ordain almost a dozen priests a year – to serve an archdiocese of 5 million. It will carry out its ministry in every language – except Latin. It will protest abortion clinics – if they pollute the groundwater or fail to pay a living wage. It will promote marital fidelity – except for undocumented immigrants who choose to leave their wives and children behind. It will exhort us to boldly work for social justice – but be too politically correct to admit that certain sexual acts are mortal sins. It will boast about the number of baptisms – but ignore the empty classrooms and pews. Welcome to the Brave New Church.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Chronic homelessness and unemployment are a problem. But the newer problem is the working homeless. They cannot find a place to live that they can afford unless they live an hour or more from their jobs.

    • Anonymous says:

      Anon, good points. In Northern California, a two bedroom apartment is now, on average, $1,700 per month in towns at least a half-hour from downtown. People working a low pay job, say $15/hour, cant afford to live where they work. Many working people are homeless. Once the cycle starts, its hard to break.

  7. Anonymous says:

    One way to help the homeless is to allow them to use your church’s address as their home address on job applications. A Methodist Church where I lived allowed them to do that and over 50% of them were able to get work.
    For homeless families with children, our local churches have joined together with letting them sleep and providing meals for one week in the Church or parish life building while they look for jobs, housing etc. There is a van that brings them and takes them to the center where they work on this and gets the kids to school and back. Depending on how many Churches participate, your parishes could host them every 3 months or so. A similar program: http://klcc.org/post/churches-quietly-offer-shelter-homeless-families

  8. “I believe that in God’s plan, the new Hispanic presence is to advance our country’s spiritual renewal. To restore the promise of America’s youth.” –Abp Gomez to Catholic News Agency a few years (statistics) back

    Advancement, renewal and restoration not working out too well in L.A., eh, Gomez? Lots of presence though, I’ll hand you that.

  9. Sobering picture or unintelligent design?

  10. Racial and economic victimhood, no sense of personal responsibility, and disdain for the rule of law all seem to be part of the Gomez mindset.

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