"I think they are looking for ... continuity," he said. "You know, change is always difficult … so they're happy that I'm trying to continue the ministry of the cardinal. But I also notice that — and I think the cardinal would probably agree with me — that people need hope, and spiritual leadership."
Gomez is aware that his background in Opus Dei — best known for its fictional, and controversial, depiction in the book and movie "The Da Vinci Code" — has set off alarms. He said he is no longer formally affiliated with the group but, far from renouncing it, said it had shaped his spirituality.
He compared his beliefs to those of the last two popes, each of whom helped push the church in a more doctrinaire direction while remaining well within the mainstream of Catholicism.
"I'm as conservative as Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict," he said. "Opus Dei, before the Second Vatican Council, was the most liberal organization in the Catholic Church, because it talked about the participation of the lay faithful. That was not normal at that time. And then, somehow, after the Second Vatican Council, it became one of the most conservative organizations in the church. You know, those terms don't really apply to the Gospel.
"I'm totally committed to the issue of immigration," he continued. "I'm also committed to the culture of life. So in political terms, those are things that are on the opposite sides sometimes, but the church is richer than those political labels."
Gomez has worked hard to reassure some in the archdiocese who have been at the forefront of Mahony's more progressive initiatives.
As parish life director of Holy Family Church in South Pasadena, Cambria Smith is among a number of women placed in significant roles in the archdiocese during Mahony's tenure. She said she has met several times with Gomez, who says he is committed to maintaining a strong role for women.
"I think that the impression that he's given people is that he's very open to listening and learning, and that he wants to respond in a way that's going to help the archdiocese to grow," Smith said. "I think he's genuinely a very holy man, and he's probably doing his best to be guided by the Holy Spirit."
Father Chris Ponnet, pastor of St. Camillus Center next to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, hosts the archdiocese's gay and lesbian ministry and HIV-AIDS ministry and has been deeply involved in peace and justice movements.
At first, the priest said, he had some apprehensions, based partly on concerns he'd heard about Gomez from peace and justice groups in San Antonio.
But after meeting with the archbishop, Ponnet said, he found Gomez "very responsive and very affirming."
If there is one group that has found an especially kindred spirit in the archbishop, it is the region's large Latino immigrant population, especially those from Mexico, where Gomez was born and raised.
That was clear in December, when Gomez celebrated a Mass in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe before thousands of people who filled much of the football stadium at East Los Angeles College. It was an overcast day filled with colorful costumes, the smells of tacos and fresh churros, the pomp and grandeur of Catholic ceremony.
Midway through Gomez's homily, it began to rain. Juan Bautista Cantillo, a deacon from St. Thomas the Apostle Church who helped organize the event, was standing near the archbishop.
"He said, 'OK, it's not too much.' And when somebody brought an umbrella, he said, 'I'm OK, I'm OK.' People said, 'OK, if he can be wet, I can be wet too.'"