Thousands gather for Mass to celebrate immigrant spirit in America

By Catholic News Service

LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Pilgrims from various nationalities and backgrounds walked several miles from a couple of different points in Southern California to join thousands of others at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles for a special Mass to recognize all immigrants July 17.

Participants raised awareness of the need for immigration reform in the United States, calling for solidarity on the issue for all to be merciful and compassionate toward immigrants in this Year of Mercy.

"We celebrate the immigrant spirit of the people of our country. This is the story of Los Angeles, the story of the state of California and the story of our country — which is a nation of immigrants," said Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, the main celebrant of the afternoon Mass.

"We gather to pray for all of the immigrants and their families — past, present and future. We pray for immigration reform in our country, for our elected officials and for people all over the world that they open their hearts to the immigrants who come to their countries," he said.

The congregation included people from the Los Angeles Archdiocese, the Diocese of Orange and the Diocese of San Bernardino.

On July 15 a group from Lake Forest, in the Orange Diocese, began a three-day, 50-mile walking pilgrimage to the Mass

The pilgrimage, called "Siempre Adelante" ("Always Forward"), was dedicated to St. Junipero Serra as it followed part of the same route he traveled with fellow missionaries to found the first nine missions in California.

St. Junipero’s first feast day was July 1; he was canonized last September by Pope Francis during his U.S. visit. The title of the pilgrimage was taken from his motto: "Always forward, never back."

Before Mass, immigrants of diverse backgrounds shared testimonies including Emiliano Leonides, one of the leaders of the "Siempre Adelante" pilgrimage for a second consecutive year and catechist at Santiago de Compostela Church in Lake Forest.

"I’m here to ask God and all the people attending the Mass in recognition of all immigrants to not forget how much we suffer when pursuing our dreams and crossing the border," said Leonides. "We are sending the message to those in power that there’s a need to change the laws for a comprehensive immigration reform and stop the separation of families."

"I am walking with them to raise awareness about the need of a comprehensive immigration reform and to let people know what the Constitution states: that we are one under God. God loves all his children," said Lily Nguyen-Ellis, also a parishioner of Santiago de Compostela Church. She joined the pilgrimage for the first time this year.

"In this Year of Mercy, I want to show people that immigration isn’t just about talking, it’s about doing, and we’re all immigrants one way or another," said Nguyen-Ellis. In 1984, when she was 17, she entered the U.S. without legal permission, arriving from Vietnam with her parents and five siblings.

At 4 o’clock the morning of the Mass, a group of 20 pilgrims from Holy Family Catholic Church in Wilmington, in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, journeyed 20 miles on foot to the cathedral to offer prayers of solidarity for all immigrants.

The group was led by longtime parishioner Maria Mejia, who is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion. "Our country has been built by immigrants and as we traveled on foot to the cathedral we prayed for all immigrants and for immigration reform that is just and honors all human life," said Mejia.

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