By Michael Martinez and Jaqueline Hurtado
LOS ANGELES — Catholics in the nation’s largest archdiocese held a special prayer July 19 for immigrants at a time when Donald Trump has put the issue on center stage.
Specifically, the prayers were designed to counter anti-immigration views as the Los Angeles archdiocese held a special Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels downtownto affirm the humanity and plight of immigrants.
The annual service was planned well before the presidential candidate made incendiary remarks about illegal immigration, and the Mass in recognition of immigrants did not address Trump’s remarks.
Still, the service was a sign that Archbishop José H. Gómez of Los Angeles took exception with Trump, who described Mexicans illegally entering the United States as “killers” and “rapists.”
The cleric asserted that immigrants are human beings in search of a better life.
Trump’s remarks were so strong that they compelled Gomez to reluctantly enter the political fray. Gomez has served as chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Migration Issues.
“I don’t know the reasons why he said them,” Gomez said in an exclusive interview with CNN en Espanol prior to the Mass, “and as a pastor in the Catholic Church, I don’t participate actively in political dialogues. That’s not my role. But obviously, if he did say those types of attacks against people and the dignity of the immigrants, it’s not right.”
Trump hasn’t backed down on the comments. Moreover, in an interview at a conservative summit last week, Trump said he can’t ever recall ever asking God for forgiveness, according to a video posted by the Daily Caller.
That didn’t stop the largely Latino archdiocese, many of them immigrants, from praying that elected leaders find ways to reform the nation’s immigration system, an issue that has divided politicians and Congress alike.
In fact, Gomez urged immigration reform during the service, a position also supported by Pope Francis.
Gomez is the highest-ranking Latino bishop in the U.S. Catholic Church and the first Hispanic to serve as archbishop of Los Angeles.
As such, he knows immigration well.
It’s in his blood.
He was born in Mexico and migrated to the United States as a teen. He eventually became an American citizen. He says immigration has always been in his mind, praising those who respect others regardless of their immigration status.
“My mother grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and she graduated from high school in San Antonio,” he said. “So ever since I was a child, we lived in two cultures. Logically the issue of immigration is of interest to me because it’s a personal, family issue for me.”
As the largest U.S. archdiocese with more than 5 million parishioners and more than 40 languages spoken at its various churches, the Catholic Church in Los Angeles is composed of more than 75 percent Latino membership. The vast majority of them are immigrants.
As their leader, Gómez focuses his passion on immigration.
“What we want is to find a solution to the problem,” he told CNN. “It’s not a political problem, it’s a human problem. They are human beings like anyone else who has migrated to this country.”
Since arriving to the Los Angeles archdiocese in 2011, Gómez has been at the forefront of urging immigration reform. He wrote a book in 2013, “Immigration and the Next America: Renewing the Soul of Our Nation.”
“The basic reality is that the immigrants who have arrived to the United States in the last 10 to 15 years are people who came looking for jobs and an improved life,” he said. “They positively contribute to this country.”
During the Mass, Gomez recognized volunteers who are active in classes to help members of the immigrant community prepare for their California drivers’ license tests through a program coordinated through the Archdiocese Office of Life, Justice and Peace.
The initiative was organized as a result of a new law under California Assembly Bill 60, which requires the California Department of Motor Vehicles to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants who can prove their identities, have established California residency and pass driving exams.
The service also recognized families who face and have experience separation after relatives were deported.
The Mass also featured Jersey Vargas, 11, in a procession. She garnered headlines last year at the Vatican when Pope Francis happened to cross her path in the general audience and blessed her.
The girl asked the pontiff to help her father’s deportation case in the United States. Her father was later released on bail, and the family faces ongoing deportation proceedings. The girl credited her faith for her father’s release.