For the past nine months, he's driven his used Ford Taurus up and down Southern California -- seeking, it seems, to cover every one of the 8,762 square miles that make up he Archdiocese of Los Angeles. And along the way, Jose Gomez has prepared himself for one of the most important transitions in current American Catholicism.
Gomez will formally take over the largest archdiocese in the U.S. on February 27, stepping out from under the shadow of Roger Mahony. It's a shadow that can sometimes feel unending -- for 25 years, Mahony has lead Los Angeles and environs, putting his stamp on Southern California thorugh an impressive array of accomplishments -- from foremost champion of immigrants rights to builder of a stunning modern cathedral that helped trigger a revival in downtown Los Angeles.
As The Los Angeles Times reports, there were concerns that Gomez would not be as natural a fit: Mahony had molded a particular brand of Catholicism in California that worked within tise state -- progressive, while adhering to and valuing essential Catholic traditions.
But, Times reporter Mitchell Landsberg writes, Gomez has "won hearts by projecting warmth, humility, and a deep spirituality; by standing patiently in endless receiving lines; by laughing often and talking to many Spanish-speaking Catholics in the language of his native Mexico."
Gomez has not only covered miles since arriving here in May, he has covered various aspects of Catholicism. He was a longtime member of the conservative Opus Dei, but also made one of his first visits here to the center that hosts the archdiocese's ministry for HIV-AIDS, and for gay and lesbian faithful.
And Latinos -- by far the largest single group among L.A's 4.3 million Catholics -- have been especially excited by Gomez during his tour of the archdiocese and its parishes.
The Times' Landsberg calls it "a quietly auspicious start" by a man who has struck all the right spiritual and personal notes.