his year is not like any other year, Archbishop José Gomez told the overflowing assembly at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels March 25 for the annual Chrism Mass.
Certainly, the large crowd itself was extraordinary for this event, at which sacred holy oils for the coming year are blessed and distributed to parishes. Excited by the recent election of Pope Francis, clergy and parishioners from throughout the archdiocese this year attended in larger numbers (about 5,000), prompting the archbishop to apologize for not having enough seats for the hundreds of people standing in two rows on the side aisles of the main altar.
As more people entered the building, some opted to pray at the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe and other annexed prayer rooms.
This is a Lent we will never forget, continued Archbishop Gomez as the Mass began. A lot has been happening, as you know. This Holy Week we are welcoming a new pope, Pope Francis, the first pope from the new world.
After inviting the assembly to give him a big hand, he prayed for the first pope ever who is the son of an immigrant to America, and for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
Parishioners were there to accompany and support their pastors in their renewal of vows, to participate in the blessing of the oils for the sick, the catechumens, and the Holy Chrism for the newly ordained priests, and to celebrate golden jubilarian priests. But most said they were mainly drawn by a renewed hope inspired by the election of the new pope.
Attending for the second time, St. Francis Xavier parishioner Rosa Wong attributed the large assembly to that renewed hope of the people.
I thank the pope for bringing a new hope to our Church, said the soon-to-be certified catechist. She agreed with Archbishop Gomez that there is an increased need for growth in faith and knowledge of Catholic teaching and values.
I came because I have a lot of hope with this new pope and for those who think that the Catholic Church is in a downward spiral, today we showed its not, said Elvia Hernandez, from Our Lady of Guadalupe, Santa Paula.
Attending for the first time with her sister Socorro Santoyo, she said the ceremony was very emotional and joyful, especially seeing so many priests (about 400) and deacons with their wives (about 200).
Eight priests in the archdiocese celebrating 50 years of priesthood in 2013 received an ovation from the assembly after Archbishop Gomez thanked them for their dedication to the Church. They are: Redemptorist Father William Adams, Jesuit Father Roderic Guerrini, Carmelite Father Thomas Alkire, Msgr. Aidan Carroll, Missionary of St. Charles Father Louis Gandolfi, Msgr. Jeremiah Murphy, Father Daniel OSullivan and Msgr. Francis Wallace.
During his homily, the archbishop reminded the assembly that the Catholic Church comes from God and belongs to God, that the Church lives by the promise that Jesus made to Peter that wherever he is, so too is the Church.
By this promise we have been made Christians, he said, and the oils we bless tonight remind us of our sacred identity and our sacred mission.
He urged the assembly not to be Christians in name only, but in everything we do in the daily realities of our lives.
Looking towards where more than 400 priests were sitting, the archbishop told them that the renewal of vows is a reminder of the path of humility and service to God and love for His Church, and that loving the Church means also having the courage to make difficult, painful decisions. He urged them to look into the good of the Church and not of oneself. Jesus must increase and we must decrease.
True power is service, he noted, citing Pope Francis words in his inaugural address. We need the courage to really believe and live that.
And as the archbishop has been doing since Pope Francis was elected, he closed the nearly three-hour evening ceremony with a couple of Vivas to the pope, to the Church and to Our Lady of the Angels.
In his homily, Archbishop Gomez also announced the launch of the new Office of New Evangelization, established in his October 2012 pastoral letter, Witness to the New World of Faith. Of particular importance in our local Church, he said, is the evangelization and pastoral care of immigrants.
To that end, he said he was grateful that Cardinal Roger Mahony who, since the beginning of his ministry as a priest, bishop and cardinal, has been dedicated in his efforts to ministering to our immigrant brothers and sisters will continue this ministry. I look forward to his pastoral collaboration with me in this important work, the archbishop said.
Another important priority for the new evangelization, he continued, is strengthening the ministry of education in the faith that leads to a more intense practice of the faith. We should want to know our faith better so that we can live it more fully, with greater love and devotion.
Mindful of Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Currys commitment in this area in the past, Archbishop Gomez said he looks forward to his help and his pastoral collaboration with me in the future.