Immigration Debate Divides Catholic Parishoners In Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony calls on parishioners to fast as a show of support for illegal immigrants. But some of Mahony's fellow Catholics wonder why the church is stepping into the red-hot political debate. It's only part of the great religious divide over illegal immigration.
NPR logo

Immigration Debate Divides Catholic Parishoners

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Immigration Debate Divides Catholic Parishoners

Immigration Debate Divides Catholic Parishoners

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

In this part of the program, we're hearing different responses to illegal immigration, and we start here in Washington, where the Senate holds a test vote today. It's on legislation offering legal status and possible citizenship to undocumented workers. It's the latest of several proposals. Yesterday, President Bush urged senators to pass a bill as quickly as possible.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I urge the senators to continue to work toward getting a comprehensive bill, a bill that will help us secure our borders.

INSKEEP: And that will include a guest worker program, he said.

Religious leaders are adding their voices to the debate, and that's where we go next. One of the most prominent is Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles who addressed the issue at a special mass yesterday.

NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

Cardinal ROGER MAHONEY (Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles): In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


At the cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Cardinal Mahoney stood before hundreds of congregants, and urged them to fast and pray.

Cardinal MAHONEY: …asking the Lord to intervene with grace and enlightenment, especially with our elected officials.

DEL BARCO: It was not the first time Cardinal Mahoney had waded into the immigration debate. A longtime immigrant advocate who marched with Cesar Chavez, Mahoney has blasted the shrill tone of the battle on Capitol Hill, which he says has been played out across the country.

Cardinal MAHONEY: I have heard some of the radio talk shows in recent weeks, and I have been so disappointed in the rhetoric, so saddened by the meanness that I hear. And that is not what we need in our country, certainly not at this critical moment.

(Soundbite of cathedral bells)

DEL BARCO: Outside the cathedral, reaction to the Cardinal's message was mixed. There was strong support from Republican worshiper Stan Hayden.

Mr. STAN HAYDEN (Republican Worshiper, Our Lady of the Angels): I think he's right on. It is his job to speak out on an issue that touches on morality.

DEL BARCO: And opposition from Homer Suiezie(ph), a Catholic visitor from De Moines, Iowa.

Mr. HOMER SUIEZIE (Visiting Catholic Democrat Worshiper, Our Lady of the Angels): Their political motives should be to encourage your people, but not to take a position. They have no place. That's separation of church and state.

DEL BARCO: But Cardinal Mahoney isn't alone. In Washington, D.C., yesterday, a group of evangelical leaders also called on lawmakers to pass compassionate immigration reform.

Reverend SAM RODRIGUEZ (President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference): There is a moral impetus to what drives us here today.

DEL BARCO: Reverend Sam Rodriguez is with the National Hispanic Christian Leadership conference.

Reverend RODRIGUEZ: The evangelical perspective is a tad different, in the fact that it does present a viable compromise. We are strong on law and order and the protection of our borders. We are not calling for amnesty. We are calling for a guest worker program. What we're looking for is, at the end of the day, a marker that will resonate with the Judeo-Christian value system of our nation.

DEL BARCO: Many religious leaders often feel an obligation to speak out, says Professor Juan Martinez of the Fuller Seminary in Pasadena. He notes that church leaders often take stands on moral issues that are also political.

Mr. JUAN MARTINEZ (Professor, Fuller Seminary): If you read both the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian scriptures--what's commonly called the Old Testament and the New Testament--one of the things that leadership always has is a prophetic voice, much more than a partisan voice. And that prophetic voice doesn't stand with the left or with the right, it stands with: how do we understand what God wants in the world?

DEL BARCO: But Martinez says that can sometimes lead to internal conflicts within the church, and tension felt by some worshipers. At Saint Monica's Church on L.A.'s West Side, Pastoral Assistant Dellas(ph) Alejandro says her congregation is evenly divided on the issue of immigration.

Ms. DELLAS ALEJANDRO (Pastoral Assistant, Saint Monica's Church): Many people feel strongly that we should abide by the laws of the country. On the other hand, people had questions about why would we need to stop helping people in order to abide by those laws? I mean, one woman in the conversation, to me, said, you know it's almost like they're asking us to be un-Christian.

DEL BARCO: For many Catholic churches in California, the call for compassion is one that will be emphasized this weekend on one of the church's most important days: Palm Sunday.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Los Angeles.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.