Pilgrims from all 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.
A month before she decided to participate in the pilgrimage and immediately challenged herself to walk at least a couple of hours a day on her own. She ended up 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, she said.
"We have been helping each other and getting to know each other better," added Nguyen-Ellis.
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 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 just before Mass and included representatives from parishes throughout Southern California and people impacted by what advocates feel is a broken immigration system in the U.S.
The crowd included including DACA students who have benefited from the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, and parents eligible for the Obama administration's DAPA program, or Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents.
Among others in attendance were families facing separation; refugees and expatriates from different nationalities; and members of the interfaith community.
DAPA and an expansion of DACA have been put on hold by the courts; the plans would temporarily protect more than 4 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation. President Barack Obama created DAPA and expanded DACA via executive actions in 2014.
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," according to a news release.
The relics of Sts. Junipero Serra, Frances Xavier Cabrini and Toribio Romo were on display during the Mass and available for public veneration following the Mass.
The first U.S. citizen to be canonized, Mother Cabrini arrived in the United States in the late 19th century to start a ministry to immigrants at the request of Pope Leo XIII. St. Toribio Romo is considered by many to be the patron saint of immigrants.