UCLA is a very diverse campus with numerous religious and cultural groups. There has been a recent struggle to unite these groups in a peaceful manner and to engender collaboration. Within this campus and beyond, the necessity for inter-religious relations is vital for a thriving and peaceful community.
Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles reflected on this idea on Wednesday, May 1 at the Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Gomez explained that Jewish and Catholic people share a similar goal: to serve God and make the world a better place.
Gomez found his passion of sharing his love for Catholicism when he was ordained in Spain in 1978, and in 2001, Gomez was appointed auxiliary bishop of Denver. Three years later, he was appointed archbishop of San Antonio, and in 2010, he became coadjutor archbishop of Los Angeles, administering the largest Catholic diocese in the nation. He is the first Hispanic to be selected Archbishop of Los Angeles and the highest-ranking Hispanic Bishop in the United States. He has a great interest in strengthening inter-faith relations.
Introducing his speech by calling on the similarities between Judaism and Catholicism, he conveyed that we all share a similar goal in life, but merely approach it differently.
“‘The kindness of the Lord has not ended, his mercies are not spent. The Lord is good to those who trust in him — to the one who seeks him.’ These words for me reflect the hope of the Jewish people — their faith in the one true God. This faith, which is the faith of the Jewish bible, is the foundation of the Christian faith,” said Gomez.
Gomez explained, “Catholics believe the Jewish people as God’s elect; the people he formed for himself.” Still, he recognized that the complicated history between Catholics and Jews is “filled with misunderstandings, conflicts, tragedies, and sadly, sometimes with violence.” He suggested that although we cannot forget the past, we must not allow ourselves to become prisoners of the past. Instead, we must be prisoners of hope.
To accept one another, Gomez urged that “as friends,” each religion must respect the other’s beliefs and take the differences between them seriously. It is the responsibility of people of faith to study these differences in order for each person to grow in his or her faith and service to God.
Gomez elaborated on the idea that Jews and Catholics share a common mission. Both religions are “painting God, which means we have a vocation and a mission. A calling to serve God, a calling to sanctify his name, and a calling to be God’s partners.”
He explained that our world is ever-changing. Our society is becoming extremely secularized and the idea of God is quickly fading. Recent generations are raised without a sense of religion.
“We are becoming a society of practical Atheists […] Our society is losing its relationship with God,” said Gomez. By losing a sense of God, Gomez believes people are losing the strength to walk through life.
Gomez quoted Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: “The future of the human species depends upon our degree of reverence for the individual person.” He spoke of the necessity to care for others, and explained that those who forget there is a God who cares will not care for others to the fullest capacity. Every person is created in the image of God, and therefore, each individual must be loved and respected.
The conclusion of the Archbishop’s reflection proposed that it is each individual’s responsibility to help teach our neighbors to realize that we are all God’s project — God’s work of art; therefore, we must all love our neighbors like an icon of the presence of God.
“We cannot pretend to love a God we cannot see if we cannot love a neighbor we can see,” said Gomez.
Following Archbishop Gomez’s reflection, he proceeded to the question and answer section of the talk. When questioned about his opinion on the constant insurgence of violence from individuals in the Muslim community, he beautifully continued the theme of peace and acceptance as he explained that the violence is coming from a minority within the faith. Instead of judging other religions based on the actions of few, we must look inward and realize that in each of our own religions and cultures, there are ignorant people that pervert our own faiths and beliefs.
He concluded his response by acknowledging the need to set up a meeting that includes a greater representation of religions to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to represent themselves and their claims on current issues. He continually repeated that in order to maintain successful interfaith relations, there must be a continuous open dialogue.
Later, Gomez was presented with questions pertaining to Israeli issues. The inquirer noted that no country is perfect, referencing some of the poor decisions on behalf of Israel. Gomez replied that the Holy City has always supported Israel and he is personally trying to help as much as he can. In fact, Gomez will be leading a pilgrimage to Israel in October to Israel.
Following the event, I had the honor of sharing a few words with Archbishop Gomez. I asked for advice on how we can bring peace and stronger interfaith relations to our microcosm, here at UCLA. He simply emphasized the importance of student-held meetings and discussions similar to this one.
“Most of the time, the people do not know what the other religion teaches. There is a lot of confusion. They go by the media or general impressions and they really do not know what each one of your religions really teaches. Sometimes even Catholics do not know anything about the Catholic Church in relationship with the other religions.”