Catholics Urged to Welcome Immigrants : Ethnic Groups Enrich Church Life, Mahony Says in Pastoral Letter

Times Religion Writer

Saying that there "are no strangers in the community of faith," Archbishop Roger M. Mahony urged Los Angeles-area Roman Catholics to welcome immigrants as "an enrichment" to church life and said he will encourage priests to learn a second language.

Mahony's first pastoral letter as archbishop of the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocese, a 1,400-word paper published Friday in the archdiocese's newspaper, the Tidings, was issued in connection with next week's Catholic-sponsored National Migration Week.

"The world has arrived at the doorstep of each parish of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles," Mahony said.

He said that from 1970 to 1980 it has been estimated that more than 2 million people came from other countries to settle in California, half of them in Los Angeles County.

The church's desire to create conditions for immigrants to participate fully in parishes "without constraints and loss of identity" is based on "our faith vision of the human family, its unity, the dignity of every human person," the archbishop wrote.

Mahony praised two parishes in Long Beach and the San Fernando Valley as good examples of making ethnic groups feel welcome.

Trilingual Mass

One parish is St. Bridget of Sweden in Van Nuys where the archbishop celebrated a trilingual Advent Mass last month in Spanish, Korean and English. The church serves the Korean Catholic community in the valley and has a former missionary to Korea on its staff. The other is Holy Innocents Church in Long Beach, which serves Catholics from the Philippines, Guam, Samoa, South Korea and various Spanish-speaking countries.

"I don't know of any cases of open hostility between ethnic groups in the Long Beach area," said Father Robert Byrne of Holy Innocents, "but any time another nationality with a different language moves in there is a built-in hesitancy."

Mahony said he has called upon archdiocesan seminary students to learn a second language "for the effectiveness of their ministry." He said he would also consider requests by priests for retraining programs to learn languages and cultures of immigrant groups in the archdiocese.

The presence of different languages and cultures within parish boundaries can become "an enrichment rather than a barrier" in matters of faith, Mahony said.

Mahony also urged immigrants to match "the mentality of welcome" in parishes with an open attitude toward established residents. "The willingness of the immigrants for incorporation into the fabric of their new country shows the acceptance of a common task, a sharing of duties and responsibilities," he said.

Illegal Aliens

The church leader said little about undocumented immigrants and refugees, except to reiterate his support for the concept of extended voluntary departure status for Central American refugees fleeing violence and for "fair immigration legislation reform to legalize those immigrant workers and their families who, in fact, are a contributing part of our society."

The exposure of Catholics to immigrants will teach "the importance of interdependence" in the contemporary world "and of how decisions and life styles in one region of the globe affect other regions. Immigrants become messengers that isolation is neither possible nor advantageous," Mahony said.

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