THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN THE "CITY OF THE ANGELS"

By Archbishop Gomez
September 19, 2013

Friends,

It’s good to be back. The last time I had the honor to address you was back in the Spring of 2011. I had been Archbishop only for a few months. But I can tell you that I feel like a real Angelino now! So thanks for having me back.

As you know, Los Angeles is the biggest Catholic community in the country. If the Archdiocese of Los Angeles was a state, we would be the 47th largest state in America. We cover Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties — a territory that’s larger than the State of New Jersey.

So as you can imagine, I’ve spent a lot of these past three years — on the road, meeting people, doing a lot of traveling and seeing the extraordinary beauty and diversity of Southern California.

And it’s been amazing for me to see — just how much the Catholic Church is woven into the fabric of ordinary life here. It’s amazing to see all the good works that the Church is doing, that Catholics are doing — all the good works, all the people we are helping, the lives we are changing.

I thought that would make a good topic for us to talk about this morning.

So I want to say a few words about what the Church is doing here in Los Angeles and why we are doing it. Then I’d like to leave time to hear your thoughts and have some discussion about the challenges we face in our city.

To begin, we need some background.

I don’t know how many of you saw the Travel section in this past Sunday’s LA Times. It’s devoted to the great missions of California, which were founded by the Franciscans who came from Spain and Mexico. These missions are treasures of our California heritage. They also remind us that the Catholic Church has a long history here.

In fact, this coming Saturday night at our Cathedral, we’ll be having our annual procession and Mass to celebrate the founding of Los Angeles, 233 years ago this week on Sept. 4, 1781.

I think everyone knows that “Los Angeles” means the city of “the Angels.” But the city’s original name is a lot longer, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Porciuncula. “The Town of Our Lady of the Angels of Porciuncula.”

Of course that name meant a lot to the Franciscan missionaries — because the Porciuncula was the little chapel where St. Francis of Assisi discovered his mission. But the point is that our city has a Christian foundation, a religious foundation.

Now, of course, we are not a Christian city. Los Angeles is a secularized metropolis — a very sophisticated “city of the world” — with every different lifestyle and peoples of every race and nation and religion.

But the Catholic Church in Los Angeles today still feels a great responsibility to play its part in making this a “City of the Angels.”

We’re not looking to make this a city where everyone is “Catholic.” But we are looking to make this a city that reflects God’s love for all his children and his desire that everyone live with dignity and justice.

The Church wants a Los Angeles where every human life is valued and welcomed. A Los Angeles where the poor and vulnerable, the elderly and sick, are protected. And we want a Los Angeles where everyone is working together to promote human dignity, strong families and human happiness.

That’s the Church’s mission. That’s been the Church’s mission since the time of Jesus. And we believe this mission is the responsibility of every Catholic.

We are not “humanitarians” or social workers. We work to help others because Jesus helped others and he commands us to love our neighbors. Our religion calls us to help those who are suffering, to build up families and communities, to inspire others to be compassionate and merciful, and to build understanding and solidarity.

That’s why the Catholic Church in Los Angeles is made up of more than just churches — we are more than just an institution that promotes prayer and worship.

It’s true we have about 290 churches and parishes in the Archdiocese. But we have almost as many schools. And the Church runs even more social institutions and charities.

As many of you know, we have about 80,000 kids in our Catholic schools — which makes us one of the largest school systems, public or private, in the state of California.

Many of these children aren’t Catholic and more than one-third come from families living below the poverty line. We subsidize these schools and these students through the generous sacrifices of our Catholic people.

We run these schools — at great expense and sacrifice — because we believe that every child deserves the chance to grow up to his or her own God-given potential.

And we believe education is absolutely essential to promoting human dignity and giving people a way out of poverty.

We are doing amazing things in our schools. And we have been doing amazing things for a long time. Our Catholic schools are one of the great untold stories in our city. Just this past weekend, I celebrated the centennial celebration of two of our schools: Our Lady of Lourdes in East LA and Mary Star of the Sea in San Pedro.

And we could do even more if we could find more money to help kids afford tuition. So we have a great foundation, the Catholic Education Foundation, that exists solely to provide scholarships and assistance to low-income families and at-risk children. Every year, this Foundation provides about $9 million to help kids get an education.

The Church is really making a difference in people’s lives. I see this every day in my ministry. We’re saving lives, changing lives and making Los Angeles a more human place, a more livable city.

Our Catholic Charities operate a social services network that serves nearly 1 million people each year. We’re running preschools and after-school programs; assisted living and senior facilities; shelters for the homeless and domestic violence victims.

I just celebrated an anniversary Mass for the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. They have been in Los Angeles for 110 years.

These good sisters opened the city’s first center to help women and children who are victims of domestic violence — back in 1904. That shelter is still open today. And unfortunately, it’s still needed. As we’ve been hearing in the news lately, domestic violence is still a terrible reality in our society.

The Church wants to be present wherever people are suffering in our city, wherever people are vulnerable and hurting.

We are working with partners to reach out to women and children who are caught up in human trafficking — modern slavery going on in our cities and neighborhoods. Our parishes and charities provide substance abuse and mental health counseling.

We run anti-gang and neighborhood development programs. We have a “restorative justice” program for young people. And we serve in many different areas in our prisons and in our communities, especially with “at risk” populations.

Day to day, the Church is involved in the struggles and challenges of our immigrant populations. In fact, there’s no institution in the city that is doing more to help immigrants and their families than the Catholic Church.

As you know, immigration is a huge issue for our nation, and also for our state and our cities. And it’s a huge issue for the Church.

It’s amazing to think, but the Church in Los Angeles carries out ministries and charities in more than 40 different languages.

This summer, we’ve been doing a lot to help the undocumented children who have been coming into our country.

As you know, this has been a real humanitarian crisis. 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.

Our people have been working with the government to provide care to the children who were being housed at Port Hueneme — kids who came from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

We have a Catholic Charities program — Esperanza Project — that is providing lawyers for these kids so they have representation in our immigration courts. Esperanza has 12 attorneys working on this. And these 12 attorneys have a combined caseload of about 500 kids. So we are trying to help these kids — and you can see that the need is really great.

We’ve also been working in the public policy area, trying to cooperate our civic leaders and legislative leaders to find solutions, to work for immigration reform.

This past July, I was in Mexico City to talk about these issues with Governor Brown and religious and diplomatic leaders from Central America. Gov. Brown had reached out to me to ask if I would help him organize the meeting and I was glad to help.

It was a good meeting, a good beginning.

For me, these kind of conversations and partnerships are a good sign. I really believe we have to work together — government officials, business leaders, churches and religious people. We all have to work together to find solutions to the challenges we face in our society.

Before I conclude, let me say a few words about immigration. This has become the great issue of our time and a great issue for our city. And I think this is an issue where the Catholic Church has a lot to offer — especially in terms of our experience of the reality of immigration and immigrants.

I’ve been working with immigrants and advocating on this issue for more than twenty years. Last year I wrote a little book on the subject called “Immigration and the Next America.”

And I really think immigration is the key to America’s future — and the future of Los Angeles.

The issues are political and economic. We need to examine whether the laws in our countries are fair and whether our borders are secure. But we also need to talk about issues of injustice and inequality in the region.

We need to talk about education and economic development; the violence of the drug trade and arms trafficking and human trafficking. We need to find creative ways to promote safe and legal forms of migration.

But immigration, above all, involves issues of our common humanity. It is more and more clear every day that we need a new commitment to protecting human dignity and promoting the awareness that we are all brothers and sisters.

That’s the Church’s mission in Los Angeles and in the world. To promote our common humanity and the dignity of the every person.

The Catholic Church wants to be a partner with all of you and with all our political and civic leaders — to build a better Los Angeles, a better America, a better world.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis is calling the Church to build a “culture of encounter” and solidarity — a culture of peace, where we look at others as brothers and sisters and children of God.

So my prayer is that we can keep working together to build a city that seeks justice for all. That defends the innocent and lifts up the weak.

We all want a Los Angeles where people have what they need to lead a dignified life, a life that is worthy of the human person, who is a child of God.

So let’s keep working together, as partners, to build justice and understanding and to make Los Angeles stronger.

Thank you for your invitation this morning and thank you for your attention. May God grant you peace. And I look forward to our conversation.

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