Archbishop José Gomez greets Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred… (Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles…)
In a homily stressing the need for immigration reform, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles said Sunday that immigration is not only a political issue, but also a spiritual one that is at the root of what it means to be a Catholic.
The Mass was part of a nationwide effort by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to show Congress that there is broad support in the Catholic community for legislation that would include a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million men, women and children who are in the country illegally.
Immigration reform is divisive, Gomez said, but "we all agree our immigration system is broken and many people are suffering because of it." The country needs an overhaul that promotes justice and human dignity, said Gomez, chairman of the conference's Committee on Migration and the most influential Latino in the U.S. Catholic church.
He stressed to hundreds of congregants gathered for the morning service the importance of viewing others the way God views them, as brothers and sisters — not as outsiders or strangers. The country and the church are made up of immigrants, he said, noting that Los Angeles is a good example of a mix of people living and working together.
"No one is a stranger, no matter where they come from," he said. "It's a question of what it means to say we are followers of Jesus Christ."
The Roman Catholic Church has taken a more active role in the immigration debate in recent years, particularly in Los Angeles with Cardinal Roger Mahony's outspoken stance and now with Gomez at the helm. Church leaders have said their latest campaign is aimed at translating Catholic support for immigration reform into action.
In the past, the church leaders have created prayers for "safe migration" and preached about welcoming "the stranger," but the latest effort is more direct, with calls to write and email congressional representatives. The hope is to keep the pressure on Congress to ensure the bill remains a priority.
Other religious groups have launched similar campaigns.
The immigration overhaul passed by the Senate in June faces tough opposition in the House, particularly from Republicans, and will probably be further delayed as lawmakers are expected to focus on Syria and a looming budget battle when they return this week from recess.
The bipartisan bill would create a path to citizenship for people in the country without legal status, strengthen border security and tighten employment rules. Some lawmakers who oppose the bill believe its provisions are inadequate and that any type of amnesty program is unfair to those who enter the country legally.
Gomez urged all 288 parishes in the nation's largest archdiocese — dominated by parishioners with roots in his native Mexico — to dedicate at least one Mass to immigration reform over the weekend.
Mercedes Blanco and Victoria Williams, who were visiting from Rhode Island and attended Sunday's Mass, said the archbishop's homily was inspiring.
"It's important for our country," Blanco said of proposed changes. "We obviously have a big population of people who have lived here all their lives and want to do more."
Immigration reform benefits everyone, Americans and immigrants alike, Williams said.
Vincent Rodriguez, who regularly attends Gomez's Mass, said he's seen many families broken by the immigration system, with American-born kids going to school in this country while their parents are deported. The Catholic Church is a good place to spread support for reform, he said. These ideas are passed down from God, and its congregants' job to disseminate them, pray and follow up with action, he said.
"You gotta start somewhere, plant that seed," Rodriguez said. "Love, peace and everything else will come after."