Church Leaders Ask More Pastors to House Illegals

Times Staff Writer

The leaders of two Los Angeles churches that offer sanctuary and refuge to about 300 illegal aliens appealed to fellow clergymen of all faiths Wednesday to open their doors to homeless aliens who are turned away each night.

Priests at the two parishes--La Placita Church just north of the Los Angeles Civic Center and the Dolores Mission Church in Boyle Heights--said at a press conference that they are no longer able to offer shelter and services to several thousand Mexicans and Central Americans who come there each day for help.

"Some (churches) may think it's more problems than blessings but we have desperate people here," said Father Gregory Boyle, pastor of the Dolores Mission church. "We would like other churches to help us."

Boyle and other church officials said a letter was sent last week to 144 churches and temples.

"We are the poorest of the poor (churches) and yet we still do what we can," one priest said.

Several pastors contacted by the two churches said late Wednesday that they would have to consult with parish governing bodies or superiors before deciding whether to accept homeless aliens.

But more typical was the reaction of church officials who said that their congregations did not have the funds or facilities to house people overnight.

"I appreciate what Father Boyle and Father (Luis) Olivares (pastor of the La Placita church) are doing, but we just can't afford to accept people," said Father Valentin Ramon, pastor of Our Lady of Solitude Church in East Los Angeles. "We don't have the toilets or other things that are needed."

With the outbreak of war in Central America, as many as 500,000 Salvadorans and Nicaraguans have resettled in the greater Los Angeles area. In response to the reported activities of death squads in El Salvador, La Placita and Dolores Mission churches declared themselves as a sanctuary for aliens in 1985.

Recently, however, the homeless men at La Placita have been blamed for a growing crime problem. The situation has forced the merchants at Olvera Street, located across Main Street from the church, to meet with Olivares to find a solution.

At the news conference, Boyle acknowledged the problem, but said that a majority of the men staying at the two churches were law-abiding. "Only a few of them create problems," he said.

Carrying signs that read, "Before we are Latinos, we are human. Help us," several homeless men who appeared at the news conference said that they supported the priests' plea for help.

"I came here only to escape the death squads in my native El Salvador," said Rene, who asked that his last name not be used. "Here, people not only discriminate against me because of my skin. They also discriminate because of my language."

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