The following is adapted from the archbishop’s homily at the annual Mass in Recognition of Immigrants July 20, after which thousands lined up, inside and outside of Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral, to venerate the traveling relic of Santo Toribio Romo.
Santo Toribio Romo was a good brother and a good son. He was a holy priest and a martyr for Jesus. In heaven now, he is a friend and protector to the immigrant and the poor.
So he is a beautiful symbol of what this annual celebration is all about.
In this Holy Mass, we celebrate the immigrant spirit that gives life to our great country and our great city. We come together to pray and hope, as the theme of our gathering reminds us, from the first reading of today’s Mass: “You gave your children good ground for hope.”
As we all know, this land was built by the blood and sacrifice and the vision of missionaries and immigrants from every race and language and every nation.
So today we give thanks for all those men and women who left the places where they were born — to bring their faith and values, their talents and gifts — to create a new life and a new world here in America.
And we thank God also for the spirit of our new immigrants — those who are joining us every day to be our neighbors and friends and family members.
Yet, as we gather again this year, we also know that there are real troubles in our land. Many things are not right in our city and in our country.
Year after year, more of our fellow citizens seem to be losing faith in the spirit of America, losing their faith in the immigrant spirit that makes this country great.
In America, our hearts and hands have always been open to welcome the stranger and the refugee. But we are not being so welcoming anymore.
All of us today, I know, are thinking about the tens of thousands of children who have been coming across our borders, sent by their parents who are trying to save them from the poverty and violence in their home countries. I can’t imagine how sad and desperate it must be for those mothers and fathers to have to make that kind of decision!
Our Holy Father Pope Francis said this week that we are facing a real “humanitarian emergency” with these unaccompanied children. Pope Francis is right. And in the face of this emergency, our first duty must be to protect these children.
My brothers and sisters, what we are doing for these children as a Church — it’s not about politics. We all know that. It’s about who we are as Catholics.
The Church in Southern California has always opened its doors to receive the refugee and immigrant.
But we don’t do it because we are “social workers” or “nice people.” We do it because we are being faithful to our identity and duty as Catholics. We do it because Jesus calls us to do it.
In the reading from the Gospel that we just heard in this Holy Mass, Jesus tells us that God’s Kingdom is a mystery, something that is small and hidden from our eyes. He says the Kingdom is like a seed that is under the ground. We can’t see it, but we know that it is living and growing.
And the message of this parable today is that God is in charge!
God is in charge of our world and our lives! Jesus tells us that God is just. God is true to his promises and true to each one of us because God cares for each one of his children.
So we have to stay faithful to God. We have to stay true to his Word and his calling in our lives.
No matter what stands in our way, we need to know and believe that his Kingdom is coming. His Kingdom is growing, little by little and day by day, even though we can’t see it and even though we face opposition and misunderstanding.
Jesus has given each of us a mission, my brothers and sisters. We have a mission to help God’s Kingdom grow.
And God’s Kingdom grows by every act of love — by every act of tenderness and kindness that we make to someone in need.
There is a beautiful line in that first reading that we heard this afternoon, from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom. I’m sure you noticed. It said:
Those who are just must be kind!
We need to remember that, my brothers and sisters. In our work for justice, in our work for human dignity — we need to be kind. We need to be merciful and have charity in our hearts and in our actions. Especially for those who don’t understand us and for those who oppose us.
Our Holy Father Pope Francis says that we need to help people change their hearts and attitudes towards immigrants. He says we need to help them overcome their indifference and fear, so that they will reach out their hands with tenderness and understanding.
So let’s pray for that today in this Eucharist.
Let’s pray for the courage to follow Jesus — just as Santo Toribio did — without counting the cost and with love for God and love for our brothers and sisters.
By our kindness, let us teach our neighbors how to be more kind. By our hospitality, let us teach our neighbors how to have compassion for others.
Let’s keep praying and working for immigration reform now. Immigration reform is a life issue and it is a family issue. And, it is a question of our souls as Catholics and Americans.
We need immigration reform that keeps families together, that gives rights to workers, and that provides a generous path to citizenship.
Let us pray for one another and for our leaders. Let us pray to rediscover our capacity to care for one another and to be close to others in their sufferings. Let us pray for greater tenderness and understanding for our immigrant families and children, and especially for the young people who have come to our country in recent months.
And may Our Lady of Guadalupe and Santo Toribio help us to keep building God’s Kingdom, to keep working for a better world with more justice, more sharing, more mercy and love because God gave us, his children, good ground for hope.
¡Viva Santo Toribio Romo! ¡Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe! ¡Viva Cristo Rey! Amen.
Archbishop Gomez’s CPA Award-winning book, “Immigration and the Next America,”is available at the Cathedral Gift Shop (www.olacathedralgifts.com/immigrationandthenextamericarenewingthesoulofournation.aspx). Follow him at www.facebook.com/ArchbishopGomez.