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To California now and a view of immigration from a church pew. For some Catholics, St. Toribio Romo has become the patron of immigrants. His spirit is said to guide, feed and shelter immigrants as they journey across the U.S.-Mexico border. Some of Romo's relics are currently attracting crowds in the U.S. NPR's Sam Sanders has this postcard.
SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: A bit of St. Toribio Romo's ankle bone sits in a glass enclosure, about the size of a big watch face. That enclosure sits right in the chest of a four-foot tall wooden statue of Romo. Usually that statue resides in Mexico in Romo's hometown of Santa Ana de Guadalupe. But this month, these relics of the patron saint of immigrants are on tour through several Catholic churches in Southern California. Last week, they were at St. Marcellinus Church for a few days in Commerce, California, just outside of East LA. A worship band warms up while four teenagers carry the statue outside on wooden poles for a procession down the street and into the church.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in Spanish).
SANDERS: Father Martin Federico Rizo-Soto leads the crowd. He's traveled with the relics from Mexico.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Spanish spoken).
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Spanish spoken).
SANDERS: Rizo Soto's sermon says Toribio Romo can bring strength.
: (Through translator) Today, all the young immigrants that will travel through so many dangerous paths, this valor that St. Toribio had, gives them strength. Although the path is difficult, it is not impossible.
SANDERS: St. Toribio Romo was a Catholic priest in Mexico in the early 1900s. He actually was against Mexicans immigrating to the U.S. He wrote a satirical play about what happens to Mexicans that go north. He said the trip made Mexicans soft, arrogant, inauthentic and maybe even Protestant. He was killed during the Cristero Civil War when Catholics in Mexico fought against the antichurch Mexican government. Somehow, not even his family really knows, Romo became linked with the journey across the border. Thousands of immigrants say they've seen Romo, a tall, fair skinned, blue-eyed man giving them food or water or a ride. People there at the church said that if anyone needs a patron saint, it's those who make that dangerous journey across the U.S.-Mexico border.
DANI MARADIAGA: Because it's very, very, very hard.
SANDERS: Dani Maradiaga sings with the youth band at St. Marcellinus. Her parents crossed the border from Honduras. Maradiaga says as hard as the journey is, it's just as hard for young immigrants, like those coming now from Central America, to adjust to American life.
MARADIAGA: I don't think they realize how hard it is for, like, teenagers to make it here as immigrants and then have to go to school, learn a completely new language and like have to make new friends.
SANDERS: Alex Franco's also a member of the church and in the band. He says many immigrants are stereotyped once they're here, and that's not fair.
ALEX FRANCO: We are not to be related to drugs or to the violence that's going on over there. Most of the people that are coming over here are trying to escape that. So they're looking for a new life in peace. That's the reason my parents came over here.
SANDERS: At the end of the mass, a concert starts up right outside.
SANDERS: Some people trickle out for the music, but more stay inside, lining up to touch the statue of Santo Toribio Romo. Hands and rosaries and pictures of loved ones are pressed against the ankle bone inside of the glass, inside of his chest, prayers and blessings for those who journey and for those who have already arrived. Sam Sanders, NPR News.
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