LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles called for mercy and an end to deportations as he led religious leaders in an interfaith prayer service Nov. 10 for peace, solidarity and unity at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
“In this country, we need to start building bridges and bringing people together,” he said. “We need to reach out to those who are hurting. Now is the time to build unity and heal communities, through our love for our neighbor and our care for those in need. That’s what tonight is about. Not politics. It’s about people.”
The archbishop and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti organized the prayer service as a sign of unity and solidarity amid the uncertainty and fear that has followed the Nov. 8 elections. The archbishop drew particular attention to immigrant communities.
That same concern was voiced by the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, in a statement issued in Washington Nov. 11.
After pledging prayers for President-elect Donald Trump, other elected officials and those who will serve in the new administration, Bishop Elizondo assured migrant and refugee families in the United States of the bishops’ “solidarity and continued accompaniment as you work for a better life.”
“We believe the family unit is the cornerstone of society, so it is vital to protect the integrity of the family. For this reason, we are reminded that behind every ‘statistic’ is a person who is a mother, father, son, daughter, sister or brother and has dignity as a child of God,” the bishop said. “We pray that as the new administration begins its role leading our country, it will recognize the contributions of refugees and immigrants to the overall prosperity and well-being of our nation.”
He said the Catholic Church will work “to promote humane policies that protect refugee and immigrants’ inherent dignity, keep families together, and honor and respect the laws of this nation.”
At the prayer service in Los Angeles, Archbishop Gomez said with the U.S. election final, children “are afraid” and “men and women are worried and anxious, thinking about where they can run and hide. This is happening tonight, in America.”
“The answer is not angry words or violence in the streets. It never solves anything. It only inflames it more. We need to be people of peace, people of compassion. Love not hate. Mercy not revenge,” he added. “These are the tools to rebuild our nation and renew the American dream. Tonight we promise our brothers and sisters who are undocumented — we will never you leave you alone.”
During his campaign, Trump vowed to undo what he called President Barack Obama’s “overreaching” executive orders. In November 2014, Obama took executive action to implement a program for parents of citizen children — the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program, or DAPA — and to expand the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.
But despite Obama’s executive measures, as the archbishop noted, his administration has deported more than 2 million in the past eight years.
“No one seems to care. Except that little girl or little boy who comes home at night — and he or she knows his or her father isn’t there anymore,” he said. The U.S. bishops have been calling for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system for more than 15 years.
“Let’s pray tonight, in a special way — that our leaders will find it in their hearts to make a beautiful, humanitarian gesture,” the archbishop added. “Let’s pray that they can come together, in a spirit of national unity, and agree to stop the threat of deportations — until we can fix our broken immigration system.”
Garcetti called for solidarity among all people of faith.
“People turn to God in moments like this, he said. “The divisions of this last week, and for these past months, have in many ways torn us apart.”
While hundreds prayed in the cathedral, hundreds of Trump protesters gathered in the streets of downtown Los Angeles for a second consecutive night. The mayor, while applauding the “new generation” for “expressing themselves,” asked that they “respect people’s property” and be more careful where they marched.
“It’s never good to play on the freeway,” he said, referring to the Nov. 9 protesters who blocked the 101 Freeway. “I hope President-elect Trump will hear our feelings, not just in this city, but in our country, and that he will seek to understand.”
Joining the archbishop and the mayor at the service were Jewish, Muslim and other leaders.
“These are no longer ordinary times,” said Rabbi Sharon Brous, founder and senior rabbi of the Ikar Jewish Community of Los Angeles. “Now it is upon all of us to respond to the millions of immigrants, to the Muslims, to the people of color, to LGBT people and people with disabilities — all of those who have been threatened by the vicious rhetoric of the past year and a half. We are with you now and every day for the next four years and far beyond that.”
In the Diocese of El Paso, Texas, Bishop Mark J. Seitz in a postelection statement likewise described the fear being felt by immigrants, refugees and Muslims in the U.S. because of Trump’s campaign rhetoric against those groups.
“Children and young people who know nothing but life in this country as the sons and daughters of immigrants wonder if their parents will be present when they return from school,” Bishop Seitz wrote. “Those fleeing direct death threats in their home countries or the murder of their family members have heard of the fate of hundreds who were forced back to their places of origin after running from murderous gangs and narcotraffickers.”
“To you I would like to offer some assurances,” the bishop said. “This country has elected a president, not a dictator. We, in this democratic republic have a system of checks and balances so that the rights of individuals are safeguarded. Campaign rhetoric is just that. Now comes the challenge of governing. For that, a leader must work with others and seek places of compromise.”
To those who are fearful, he said Catholic leaders “will continue to stand by your side. We will do all in our power to assure that your voice is heard, that you are protected and that this nation remains true to its basic ideals.”
Long-Garcia is editor-in-chief of Angelus News, the multimedia platform of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.