(Archbishop Gomez delivered this homily at the 50th Anniversary Mass for the Establishment of the Diocese of Phoenix on December 2, 2019 at Comerica Theatre in Phoenix).
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,1
It is a joy for me and an honor to be here tonight to celebrate this anniversary with you. I bring with me the prayers of the whole family of God in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Our dioceses are connected by the Holy Spirit and by history. Phoenix is a young diocese, but as you know, the faith here is old — dating back to the first evangelization of North America.
We give thanks to God tonight for sending the missionaries who evangelized Arizona, many of them were also pioneers in bringing the Gospel to California.
We ask for the prayers and intercession of the great evangelists and Servants of God, Jesuit Father Eusebio Kino and the Franciscan martyr, Fray Francisco Garcés.
Both of these men were immigrants to this country, from Spain by way of Mexico. They were explorers and apostles. And they loved and defended the native peoples they came to serve here.
And something else that’s important. Father Kino and Fray Garcés both loved Our Lady of Guadalupe, and they both entrusted their lives and their mission to her.2
The mission to American truly began when Blessed Mary of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego in 1531. She was the protector and mother of these first evangelists, just as she is the patroness of this great Diocese of Phoenix.
So, we invoke our Blessed Mother tonight. We ask her to accompany us and guide us as we thank God for his graces on this diocese, and as we reflect on our “sacred task” of continuing the evangelization of our country and continent.3
My dear brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ calls all of us to this mission. We receive his mandate again tonight in the Gospel:
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
The Church exists to evangelize. There is no other reason, no other purpose for the Church. And the Church is all of us.
For too long now — way too long — people have thought the Church’s mission is only a responsibility for bishops, priests and religious, or for “Church professionals” working in parishes and chanceries.
But Jesus never said that. His words tonight are clear. And he addresses these words to every one of us with no exceptions; no matter what our state in life or our “rank” in the Church.
When the great pope St. John Paul II came to Phoenix in 1987, he said to you: “The work of evangelization is not over. On earth it will never be over. … The duty of carrying forward this work rests on the whole Church and on every member of the Church.”4
So again, that means you, and that means me. Every one of us in the Church is called to evangelize — to be a missionary disciple, as our Holy Father Pope Francis likes to say.
But my dear brothers and sisters, in this moment in the Church’s history, I believe we are living in the “hour of the laity.” Now more than ever, it is time for you — the lay men and lay women of the Church — to burn with new desire to love Jesus and to bring his holiness and salvation to every person.
At the dawn of the first evangelization, when Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared as the bright star lighting the path to Jesus for all the Americas — she did not show herself to the bishop or the priests or even to the missionaries at the time. No. Instead, she entrusted herself to a lay person, St. Juan Diego.
As we know, she gave him a mission — to go tell the bishop to build a “temple,” a church where all peoples could come to that encounter with the living Jesus Christ, where they could know his love, his compassion, and his salvation.5
Dear brothers and sisters, tonight Our Lady is calling to you with tender affection, speaking to your heart as your Mother, just as she spoke to Juan Diego. Our Lady is calling you to build the Church in America, to bring our neighbors to Jesus.
And my dear brothers and sisters, you know and I know — that our mission is urgent.
America is highly secularized now and it’s being aggressively de-Christianized. The sense of the sacred and transcendent is being lost. We are living in a time of dangerous confusion about the true meaning of human life and human freedom.
But we know — that his world will not be saved by politics or technology or by all our efforts to define our own concepts of existence.6
Only Jesus. We know this. No other name under heaven can save us.7 He is the way that leads to the truth about our lives, to the love and happiness that we all long for.
We need to bring our neighbors to a new personal encounter with the living Jesus Christ. This was St. John Paul II’s vision for the Church in America.8 This was the task Our Lady of Guadalupe entrusted to St. Juan Diego.
This is our vocation now — our mission, my brothers and sisters.
We bring others to Jesus, not only through the words that we speak, but even more — we share Jesus by the way we live. By our attitudes and actions, by the way we treat people, by the choices we make in the humble, ordinary things we do every day. At work, at home, in our friendships.
Phoenix is one of this nation’s largest cities. Imagine if every Catholic here would bring just one person to an encounter with Christ. And what if each of these people would then bring one more person to Jesus? We could change America! We could change the world for Jesus!
This is how we carry out the Church’s mission. Not with complicated programs or pastoral plans. But person to person, heart speaking to heart about the love of Jesus — about who he is and what he has done for us by shedding his blood on the Cross.
So, my dear brothers and sisters, on this important anniversary, Our Lord and Our Lady are inviting us to deepen our own encounter with the living Christ and to renew our commitment to the Church’s mission.
Father Kino preached God’s love to Arizona’s first peoples by showing them a crucifix and a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Let’s follow his example in our new evangelization of Arizona and America. Let’s help everyone to know the hope we have in Jesus and in the tender love of his mother.
Father Eusebio Kino, pray for us!
Fray Francisco Garcés, pray for us!
St. John Paul II, pray for us!
St. Juan Diego, pray for us!
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of God and Mother of the Americas, pray for us!
1. Readings: HOs. 2:16b, 17b, Ps. 96:1-10; Eph. 2:19-22; Matt. 28:16-20.
2. Herbert Eugene Bolton, Rim of Christendom: A Biography of Eusebio Francisco Kino, Pacific Coast Pioneer (Russell & Russell, 1960), 60, 74, 107; On the Trail of a Spanish Pioneer: The Diary and Intinerary of Francisco Garcés in his Travels Through Sonora, Arizona, and California, 1775-1776, ed. Elliott Coues (Harper, 1990).
3. Second Vatican Council, Ad Gentes, Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church (December 7,1965), 29.
4. Homily (Cathedral of Ss. Simon and Jude, Phoenix, Sept. 14, 1987).
5. Nican Mophua, 28.
6. Archbishop José H. Gomez, For Greater Things You Were Born, Pastoral Letter on God's Beautiful Plan of Love for Our Live and Our World (December 25, 2016), 5.
7. Acts 4:12.
8. Ecclesia in America, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ, the Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America (January 22, 1999).