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Thousands gather for Mass celebrating immigrant spirit in America

Banner door of mercy los angeles

Faithful process through Year of Mercy doors before Mass in Recognition of All Immigrants at Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. (courtesy photo)

Two groups of pilgrims set out on long journeys on foot in the early morning hours on Sunday. Their destination was the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles to join in a special Mass in Recognition of All Immigrants. The pilgrims, from different nationalities and backgrounds, challenged themselves to walk these long distances to raise awareness of the dire need of comprehensive immigration reform.  They were attending the call to be merciful and compassionate in this Year of Mercy.

The pilgrims joined thousands of faithful at the cathedral, including those from the Archdiocese of Los  Angeles and the Dioceses of San Bernardino and Orange who gathered for the special Mass presided by Archbishop José H. Gomez at the cathedral.

“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 Archbishop Gomez.

“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,” Archbishop Gomez said.

On Friday, July 15, a group from Lake Forest began a three-day, 50-mile walking pilgrimage to the Mass to unite the faithful in prayer and reflection for all those impacted by what they experience as a broken immigration system. 

The pilgrimage, called “Siempre Adelante” (Always Forward), was dedicated to St. Junípero Serra –whose first feast day was July 1– as it follows part of the same route he traveled with fellow missionaries to found the first nine missions in California.

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,” he added.

“I am walking with them to raise awareness about the need for 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, who 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, who was also undocumented, arriving in the U.S. in 1984 from Vietnam with both parents and five siblings when she was 17 years old.

Nguyen-Ellis decided to participate in the pilgrimage about a month ago. She immediately challenged herself to walk at least a couple of hours a day on her own, eventually getting up to walking seven hours in one day. “Just to make sure I would be able to walk the 53-mile pilgrimage,” said the 49-year-old hairdresser. “It was hard but worth it. We have been helping each other and getting to know each other better,” said Nguyen-Ellis.

Another group of 20 pilgrims from Holy Family Catholic Church in Wilmington journeyed 20 miles on foot to the Cathedral to offer their prayers of solidarity for all immigrants. The group was led by long-time parishioner and Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, Maria Mejia. “Our country has been built my 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. 

A pre-gathering procession began inside the Cathedral prior to the Mass which included representatives from parishes throughout Southern California and people impacted by the current immigration system, including DACA students, parents eligible for DAPA and families facing separation, as well as refugees and expatriates from different nationalities. Members of the interfaith community were also present.

Local immigrants shared their testimonies including:


  • Sophie Tran, a second generation Vietnamese woman of O.C. whose parents were among the refugees who arrived in Camp Pendleton during the Vietnam War.

  • Juanatano Cano, a native of Guatemala and recent master’s graduate of California State University, Northridge. He shared part of his story in his native Mayan language.

  • Juan Samayoa, a 17-year-old unaccompanied minor from Guatemala whowas forced to leave his home country because of gang persecution.

During the Mass, prayers were offered in French, Spanish, Polish, Vietnamese, Swedish and English for immigrant families suffering in the shadows from poverty and brokenness.

The relics of Saints Junípero Serra, Frances Xavier Cabrini and Toribio Romowere on display during the Mass, and were available for public veneration following Mass. These saints have always held great significance to the Catholic immigrant community in the United States.

The Mass in Recognition of All Immigrants was livestreamed via Facebook Live:https://www.facebook.com/olacathedral

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