We have a new “blessed” in our universal Church — and she once lived right here in Los Angeles. Blessed María Inés Teresa Arias was beatified late last month in Mexico City. Her story is beautiful because it is so ordinary. Manuelita, as she was known, was born in 1904, and grew up in a large Catholic family in Nayarit, Mexico. She used to go to daily Mass with her father and she worked in a bank. She was active in her church and in helping the poor. She had a fun social life. When Manuelita was 20, a cousin gave her St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s autobiography, “Story of a Soul.” From that time on, she felt a deep desire to consecrate her life to Jesus Christ. She joined the Poor Clare sisters in Mexico City. Those were hard times. The Mexican government was persecuting the Church — killing priests and nuns, confiscating churches and convents, outlawing the celebration of the Mass. This was the time of the Cristeros War. The persecution drove the Poor Clares into exile. They were welcomed here in Los Angeles in 1929, by my predecessor, Archbishop John J. Cantwell. He welcomed many refugees from Mexico, including Ven. Maria Luisa Josefa de la Pe√±a, who founded our Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles. While praying in what was then our Church of St. Toribio, Blessed María Inés received a special calling to found the Poor Clare Missionary Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. She gave her sisters a beautiful mission: “To carry the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, so that she — through her maternal tenderness — would bring her Divine Son to live in the hearts of those who hunger for God without knowing it.” And by the time of her death in 1981, her order had established 50 houses in countries all over the world. I was thinking about Blessed María Inés last week as the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing arguments on Arizona’s controversial immigration law. Our Church is a Church of immigrants. It always has been. Just as America has always been a nation of immigrants. Except for a few, all of our saints, blesseds and venerables were immigrants. Some, like St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, were canonized for their service to our immigrant communities. Today we seem to be losing this sense of America’s heritage — as a land of missionaries, immigrants and saints. A land where men and women from every race, creed and nation can live as brothers and sisters.
America has always been a nation of justice and law. But we are also a people of compassion. We can find a better way. It begins by remembering the promise of America — as a land where poor immigrants can become great saints.
That’s why this Arizona case is important. Every year, state governments keep passing new anti-immigrant laws. There were 197 new laws in 2011 and 208 the year before that, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. These laws express people’s anger and frustration. Everyone knows our national immigration system is broken. So far Congress and the President have not found a way to fix it. There has been no real movement at the national level since comprehensive immigration reform failed in Congress in 2007. Our national “policy” right now is to arrest and deport as many illegal immigrants as we can. Last year alone, our government deported nearly 400,000 people, a record number. Of course, we’re not just talking about statistics. Each of these “numbers” is a person, many of them Catholics. Many are mothers or fathers who, without warning, won’t be coming home for dinner tonight. Many may never see their children grow up. This is not a “solution” worthy of a great nation. In the name of enforcing our laws, we are now breaking up families. We’re punishing innocent children for the crimes of their parents. We are a better people than this. America has always been a nation of justice and law. But we are also a people of compassion. We can find a better way. It begins by remembering the promise of America — as a land where poor immigrants can become great saints. We can find the courage to create a principled immigration policy. A policy that includes a just solution to the problem of those who are here in violation of our laws. A policy that secures our borders against illegal crossings, and welcomes new immigrants who have the character and skills our country needs to grow and flourish. So let’s make that our prayer this week — that we can find a new way forward on immigration. Let’s ask Blessed María Inés — and all the immigrant saints and blesseds of America — to help us grow in compassion and empathy. To help us see the humanity of our brothers and sisters, no matter where they come from or how they got here. Our Lady of the Angels, pray for our Archdiocese and our country. Follow Archbishop Gomez at: www.facebook.com/ArchbishopGomez.