Several of Southern California's most prominent religious leaders gathered in downtown Los Angeles early Friday in a vigil for immigration reform, underscoring a growing interfaith effort to change the nation's immigration laws.
Undocumented immigrants "need mercy and they need justice," said Archbishop Jose Gomez, welcoming an array of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders to the vigil, held 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 current laws as "totally broken” and said they were unfairly punishing families and children.
"These are human souls, not statistics. These are children of God, we cannot be indifferent to their suffering," he said.
While the audience was sparse -- with only a few dozen people in attnendance to hear 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, represented a burgeoning interfaith push in the L.A. area for immigration reform.
Several leaders said that five or 10 years ago such an event would probably have been almost entirely Catholic or Christian, with a focus primarily on the Latino community.
“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.
"We are here because we wish to transcend. It does not matter whether my particular people are suffering. But we look at it as our people are suffering. And we stand with those suffering people."
Among 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 problem to this month's Passover, which commemorates the story of the Exodus and 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."