Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles gave his blessing Sunday to a group of children and immigration reform advocates who are traveling to Rome to ask Pope Francis for his help and benediction.
“Father, we ask You to bless our brothers and sisters, as they begin their long journey to Rome,” Archbishop Gomez prayed March 16. “Help them to walk with Jesus. Give them courage and joy as they stand with Your poor in their struggle for dignity and justice.”
“Teach us all to love others as You love them. Grant that we might be holy as You are holy,” he continued, at the closing Mass of the 2014 Los Angeles Religious Education Congress at the Anaheim Convention Center.
“And guide us to reform our immigration policies, so that our country may live up to its beautiful promises of liberty and justice for all.”
The group includes children whose families face the threat of deportation from the U.S. because they do not have proper documentation.
According to the Orange County Register, the group has chosen 10-year-old Jersey Vargas, the daughter of undocumented immigrants, as their representative to the Pope. Vargas, who was born in the U.S. and will be making her first flight on an airplane, wants to give the Holy Father a card and talk to him.
“We are not criminals. My parents came to this country for a better life. But my dad is in immigration detention and I'm afraid he will be deported. I am going to tell the Pope I feel very sad,” she told the Orange County Register.
Organizers say they are seeking a private audience with the Pope, to deliver hundreds of letters from children whose families face the threat of deportation. They want to ask him to address the question of immigration with U.S. president Barack Obama when the two leaders meet later this month.
During his homily at the Mass, Archbishop Gomez said, “the Church’s mission is a mission of mercy – because mercy is the face of God and the heart of the Gospel.”
He reflected on the missionary theme of “setting the world on fire,” connecting it to the Lenten path of continuous renewal.
“Our Christian life is a journey of conversion, of transfiguration,” he said, pointing to the Gospel passage in which Christ is transfigured and God’s glory is revealed: “for one brief moment, we see our destiny – and the path we are meant to follow in our lives.”
As Christians, we must also seek to have our lives transfigured to be more like Jesus, Archbishop Gomez said.
“That’s our vocation. Our calling. That’s why God made us! To be transformed and transfigured. To become more like Jesus every day of our lives, until one day we are raised up in the Resurrection, when he will change our earthly body to be like his own glorious body.”
Since his election a year ago, Pope Francis has been teaching us by his example how to be continually transformed by the Beatitudes, the archbishop said.
“He is calling us to be poor in spirit – to live with less so we can give more to our neighbors in need. He is calling us to hunger for justice – to reach out to the poor and vulnerable and to build a society where everyone lives with the dignity that God intends.”
Archbishop Gomez encouraged participants to “pray for the courage to be missionary disciples who ‘give our faith an essence through deeds.’”
“My brothers and sisters, our society needs more justice and more mercy. And that’s our mission. The mission of the Church.”
The archbishop recommended the Beatitudes as a path for Christian life, pointing to the examples of the saints as well as modern figures such as César Chavez, the son of immigrants who grew up picking crops in California and became a “great civil rights leader who fought for farm workers and for Latinos in our country.”
“César Chavez was a man of prayer and man of peace. Learning about his life tells me that he had a deep devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and that he tried to live the Beatitudes in his daily life,” Archbishop Gomez said. “He fought for justice for his people — using the spiritual weapons of prayer, fasting, and self-sacrifice; and he always urged non-violence.”
“I’ve been also thinking a lot about César Chavez these days, as we continue to struggle for immigration reform. To me, justice for immigrants is one of the great human rights issues of our time.”