LOS ANGELES - A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants.
Toribio Romo Gonzalez was a priest who died in the so-called Cristero War, a rebellion against Mexico's anti-clerical government of the 1920s. Canonized as Saint Toribio in 2000, many Hispanic Catholics have come to view him as the patron saint of migrants.
An ankle bone from the priest, housed in a small wooden statue in his image, is on loan from Mexico and has been making the rounds of churches in Southern California.
It has struck a responsive chord with immigrant Catholics in this suburban church, including Peruvian-born Lucy Castro.
“When my children [were] five years old, the immigration took my husband for about one month,” said Lucy Castro, a Peruvian immigrant.
After a month in detention, her husband was released pending an immigration hearing. Castro believes Saint Toribio helped the family through the crisis.
The relic has drawn those worried about the plight of tens of thousands of migrant children from Central America who have fled to the United States and are awaiting detention hearings.
Sunday, thousands attended a mass at the Los Angeles Catholic cathedral to venerate the relic and hear testimonials, including from a Honduran woman, who described her escape from violence and arrival in the United States six weeks ago with her young son.
Jersey Vargas, a 10-year-old U.S. citizen, told of her visit to Rome to meet Pope Francis in March. She told the pontiff about her father, who was then in detention in the United States. Days later, her father was released, pending an immigration hearing.
“I want him to please give us immigrant reform because many families are suffering. And I already suffered the same situation and I don't want it to happen again to anyone,” Vargas said.
Joshua Oliveros, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, knows that the immigration issue is divisive, but said he believes in miracles.
“Hopefully, Barack Obama he will bring this opportunity, not only for a few people, but for everyone because I believe that people who come from different parts of the world can make a difference,” he said.
Church leaders call the plight of undocumented migrants a humanitarian crisis. They say something must be done for the millions separated from families by their immigration status - with help from a Catholic saint and political leaders in Washington.