Several of Southern California's most prominent religious leaders held a vigil for immigration reform in downtown Los Angeles on Friday, underscoring a growing interfaith effort to change the nation's laws.
Immigrants who are in the United States illegally "need mercy and they need justice," said Archbishop Jose Gomez, welcoming an array of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders to the gathering at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
Gomez, who has made changing immigration laws a hallmark of his three-year tenure leading the L.A. Archdiocese, described the current system as "totally broken," adding that federal laws punished families and children unfairly.
"These are human souls, not statistics," the archbishop said. "These are children of God. We cannot be indifferent to their suffering."
While the audience was sparse — with only a few dozen in attendance to hear the prayers for compassion, along with repeated calls for President Obama to act — the religious leaders on hand, from each of the three main Abrahamic traditions, stood strong and united.
Several said that five or 10 years ago, such an event likely would have been almost entirely Catholic or Christian, with a focus primarily on the Latino community.
While Friday's vigil did feature testimony from a Catholic Latino family, who are in the country illegally and whose uninsured daughter struggles with severe health issues, attention also was paid to immigrants from across the globe, those of other faiths and the nonreligious.
"Times have changed," said Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California. "Some have framed the issue as a monolithic issue of a particular denomination. But that is a myth. The immigration issue transcends all creeds, all colors, all languages.
"It does not matter whether my particular people are suffering," he said. "But we look at it as our people are suffering. And we stand with those suffering people."
Among the other speakers were Episcopalian Bishop Jon Bruno, president of the L.A. Council of Religious Leaders, which put on the event; Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcano; Lutheran Bishop Guy Erwin; Armenian Church Archbishop Hovnan Derderian; and Rabbi Mark Diamond, regional director of the American Jewish Committee.
Diamond connected the immigration issue to the observance later this month of Passover, which commemorates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.
"Our ancestors knew the pain, the anguish of being unwelcome strangers in a strange land," Diamond said. "We must never do that to others."