“Your word is a lamp for my steps, a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105)
Their lives are a journey, and God walked with them every step of the way because of their faith. God gave them the Spirit for delivery.
It was 4:05 a.m. on Friday, July 15, when eight human ‘shadows’ were seen at a parking lot. They were prepared for a real challenge: walking a 50-mile, three-day pilgrimage from Santiago de Compostela Catholic Church in Lake Forest to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles, arriving on Sunday, July 17.
Their mission was to send a message to Congress to urge passage of compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform with pathways to citizenship at a Mass presided by Archbishop Jose H. Gomez.
“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 history of our country, which is a nation of immigrants,” said Archbishop of Los Angeles, José H. Gómez. “We gather to pray for all immigrants and their families, past, present and future. We pray for immigration reform in our country, for our elected officials and for the people all over the world that they open their hearts to the immigrants who come to their countries.”
The group of pilgrims, as well as another 1,500 parishioners from the Diocese of Orange who traveled in 23 buses to L.A., had the opportunity to hear about how the church has been working on issues related to immigration, including the California AB-60 Driver’s License bill, DACA/DAPA outreach, aid for Central American unaccompanied minors in the courts, and the current Citizenship Campaign.
Presented at the Mass were relics of St. Frances Cabrini, St. Junipero Serra, and St. Toribio Romo; saints who accompanied others, who were immigrants themselves and stood strong in their faith amidst adversity and challenge.
“We want to tell people that we don’t want families being separated,” said Tom Haas, coordinator of evangelization and adult formation at Santiago de Compostela Church. “Everyone who comes [to the U.S.] is a case of humanity.”
Led by Haas, the multicultural group included Lily Nguyen-Ellis, immigrant born in New Caledonia, a French territory comprising dozens of islands in the South Pacific, and Brian Tovar, a U.S. citizen who walked alongside his blind Mexican father, Felipe Tovar.
“I did this pilgrimage for the human dignity of immigrants,” said Lily. “My parents and I were undocumented for a while in U.S. so I know the feeling of fear when people ask you if you have papers or not.”
At 4:12 a.m. the group from Orange County began their three-day, 50-mile walking pilgrimage to the Immigration Mass to unite the faithful in prayer and reflection for all those impacted by the broken immigration system.
The pilgrimage was called “Siempre Adelante” (Always Forward) in honor of St. Junípero Serra—whose first feast day was July 1—and followed part of the same route traveled by St. Junípero on his journey to found the first nine missions in California.
The group from Santiago de Compostela brought to mind all those who have traveled for a better life. The pilgrims used their time to reflect and pray along the way on how God was journeying with them as they passed through the cities of Santa Ana, Anaheim, City of Commerce and the Dolores Mission Los Angeles, and reflected in solidarity with all those who leave their countries and travel to a new place.
“I think what I did would help people who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border and they don’t have papers, food or any job,” said Brian, the youngest pilgrim in the group. “I also was thinking all the way about the homeless people.”
The first night, during a break at the St. Boniface Church in Anaheim, his father, Felipe Tovar (49), could no longer continue the route, because of his blindness and diabetes.
During the pilgrimage, each morning began with a reading from the Scripture Genesis 18:1–10. At midday, while resting, the pilgrims responded to questions to reflect on the part of the journey they had walked. Some answered in writing and others shared their responses with each other.
On Saturday, the group reflected on a reading from the letter of Paul to the Colossians (Col. 1:24-28), in which the Church teaches us about compassion and solidarity.
“The sacrifice we did is for many people who come to this country for a better life,” said Emiliano Leonides, an immigrant from Guerrero, Mexico. “I remember when I crossed the border it was a lot of suffering, and still is difficult for me to be undocumented because sometimes we do not have the same rights as others. I thank God for the U.S. and his people. And with my brothers and sisters I pray for those who make policies on immigration, and I have faith that God will touch their hearts, and hopefully soon I could be able to see my mother and father after more than ten years.”
Rosario Espinoza (52) from Mexico City made the same sacrifices. Sores on her feet were as evident as her faith when the group arrived on Sunday at 9:45 a.m. at the iconic Placita Olvera in Los Angeles.
“The most important thing is that we create consciousness about immigration and immigrants,” she said. “People saw in us the sacrifice made by many people crossing the desert, but many never reach the American Dream.”