“¬°Que vivan los inmigrantes!”
These joyful words reverberated loudly off the walls of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Downtown Los Angeles the afternoon of July 19, exclaimed by the faithful of diverse ages, ethnicities and cultures, representing parishes from across the archdiocese during the annual Mass in Recognition of Immigrants.
“Every year in this beautiful Mass we celebrate the immigrant spirit of the people of our country. … which is a nation of immigrants, one nation formed out of many nationalities and peoples, and the immigrant spirit is also the spirit of the universal Catholic Church,” said Archbishop José H. Gomez, who presided at the Mass.
According to Pope Francis, he explained, the Church is the “home of hospitality, welcoming the different cultures of which our earth is so richly blessed.”
“Each one of us is called to this mission of hospitality and welcoming; we are called to open the doors of our hearts, to love with the heart of Jesus,” he said. “Let’s keep working and praying for a just, effective and immediate immigration reform, for dignity for every person in our country … We cannot lose hope.”
Also in attendance for this year’s Mass honoring the “immigrant spirit” were local auxiliary bishops, numerous clergy members and religious and more than 20 church leaders representing diverse faith communities from across the Southland.
“The quest for comprehensive immigration reform is not a Catholic issue, it’s a humanitarian issue, and the fact that there were representatives of various faith traditions here with us this afternoon shows that,” said Father Alexei Smith, archdiocesan director of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, following the service. He said the Mass “energized” the interfaith guests present, adding that many expressed a desire to work collaboratively for immigration reform.
Near the close of Mass, Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Alexander Salazar recognized the many parish volunteers in attendance who manned scores of workshops at their respective churches to help community members prepare for their driver’s license tests under AB 60, the California law that required the DMV to begin issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants after Jan. 1, 2015.
Bishop Salazar also praised Jaime Huerta, associate director of the archdiocesan Office of Life, Justice and Peace — which organized the AB 60 parish initiative — for his tireless efforts in helping make the initiative a reality.
Speaking with The Tidings shortly after the Mass, Huerta lauded the hard work of the numerous parish volunteers — several hundred parishioners across more than 90 parishes provided hands-on assistance with DMV forms, practice tests and Q-and-A sessions during the AB 60 workshops held over several weeks and months.
Currently in the works is an initiative helping parishes get ready to provide similar educational workshops for the president’s executive actions on immigration — Expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) — which would allow immigrants who arrived illegally as children and parents of U.S.-born and/or resident children to apply for work permits and receive temporary protection from deportation.
Although DAPA and the DACA expansion have been delayed due to legal challenges, Huerta said he believes they will eventually be implemented, and noted that there is no shortage of parish volunteers to run future immigration workshops.
“The delay is kind of like a blessing in disguise, because it gives us a chance to continue working with Catholic Charities and other organizations to prepare our people for various immigration alternatives, so that they’ll be ready to go when we get the green light,” said Huerta.
One of the people ready and eager to help is Errika Cavero, a native of Peru and parishioner at Holy Spirit Church, Los Angeles, who volunteers for various parish ministries supporting fellow immigrants. She described the Mass in Recognition of Immigrants as a “beautiful, emotional and exciting” experience.
“It was also so wonderful to see so many religious leaders from different faith communities, to know they are supporting us,” she said. “We are not alone in this struggle; there are so many people and communities that are actively lending a helping hand … putting in their little grain of sand in support of immigrants.”
This year’s Mass was preceded by a pro-immigrant procession in the Cathedral plaza, which included the Knights of Columbus Honor Guard, representatives from participating parishes and people who have been personally impacted by the U.S.’ current broken immigration system, including DACA students, parents eligible for DAPA, and families who are facing the possibility of separation.