Marty Haugen’s “All Are Welcome” offered an appropriate opening hymn for the annual Mass in Recognition of Immigrants at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels July 21, which reflected Southern California’s cultural roots of diversity while encouraging both prayer and work supporting comprehensive immigration reform. The Cathedral was standing-room-only with parish representatives from not only the Los Angeles Archdiocese but also busloads of worshippers from San Bernardino and Orange Dioceses. Auxiliary Bishop Dominic Luoung of Orange and Auxiliary Bishop Rutilio del Riego of San Bernardino concelebrated the Mass with Archbishop José Gomez.Political officials — including new Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Congressman Xavier Becerra and Congresswoman Lucy Roybald-Allard — attended in support for positive changes to the current immigration policy. The Senate-passed federal bill on immigration reform, now before the House of Representatives, includes restrictions on future illegal immigration but also provides pathways for citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants now living in the United States. Even with bipartisan support, the bill has already come under strong scrutiny from conservative members of Congress. Upon arriving at the cathedral, worshippers were handed postcards advocating for immigration reform which they could send to House Speaker John Boehner; parish representatives were encouraged to distribute the pre-printed postcards at their own parishes.“There is a time for politics and a time for prayer,” said Archbishop Gomez in his homily. “Prayer should always come first, before our political action, because we always want to make sure we are trying to do God’s will and not our own will.”The archbishop reminded worshippers that “we don’t get our dignity from having the proper documents or the right paperwork. Our human dignity comes from God.“We pray today that God will change our hearts — and change the hearts of our neighbors and our leaders. We especially pray for our elected officials that they have the courage to address the needs of our immigrants with a comprehensive immigration reform bill as soon as possible. Now is the time for it.”Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Alexander Salazar, director of Ethnic Ministries and the Office of Life, Justice and Peace, encouraged the assembly to “feel the pain and grief” of immigrants who have had families torn apart and lives lost. “It’s our responsibility to be that Good Shepherd to one another.”Before and after the Mass, testimonies put a personal face on the plight of the immigrant. James Lonon, now residing at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Reseda, outlined his frustration in gaining documentation as he studied for the priesthood at St. John’s Seminary.  Originally from India, Lonon came to the U.S. in 1997 and when his visa expired, he applied to become a resident and was approved. However, while waiting for his green card, he received a revocation notice to leave the country.Today, 12 years later, his legal status is still unresolved. He has paid more than $22,000 in legal fees but his lawyer “failed to properly represent [my] case.”During this process, Lonon’s parents passed away and he could not go home to see them or attend their funerals because of his immigration status. “My decision to remain in the USA while my parents were dying, and after they had died, was extremely painful,” he said.Lonon completed his studies in 2008 but is currently waiting to be ordained since the immigration process has put that on hold. “I have applied for adjustment status and was denied. I am unable to proceed due to lack of financial resources,” he said. “I am ready to serve the church as a priest, but my immigration status prevents me being able to do so.” While Lonon’s testimony highlighted the bureaucratic nightmare that often plagues immigrants, the story of Andree Franco (from Our Lady of Grace in Encino) depicted not just the struggles but also triumphs.Born in Guatemala, Franco came to the Los Angeles area when she was six years old. Because of her uncertain legal status, she couldn’t visit relatives in other countries, get a driver’s license or go with her eighth grade class on a trip to Washington, D.C. Franco’s mother, however, kept telling her to keep up her schooling, and one day she would, “go to Harvard,” an idea that seemed almost impossible. Last year, when President Obama granted work permits as part of a “deferred action” program to illegal immigrants under 30 years old, Franco and her sister applied and finally received legal documents that allowed her more freedoms. Her mother concurred that it was only a matter of time when she would be accepted into Harvard.“I realized that there was nothing holding me back so I applied,” she said. “I applied to 13 universities and got accepted into seven — and yes, one of them was Harvard.”Over the enthusiastic applause from the crowd, Franco had to add: “And not only did I get in, I received a full scholarship and I am looking forward to starting next month.” The applause was deafening.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0726/immigration/{/gallery}