Welcome to DU! The truly grassroots left-of-center political community where regular people, not algorithms, drive the discussions and set the standards. Join the community: Create a free account Support DU (and get rid of ads!): Become a Star Member Latest Breaking News General Discussion The DU Lounge All Forums Issue Forums Culture Forums Alliance Forums Region Forums Support Forums Help & Search

Judi Lynn

(160,755 posts)
Sat Dec 12, 2015, 08:38 PM Dec 2015

Op-Ed Remembering an L.A. priest who gave sanctuary to immigrants during Reagan era

Op-Ed Remembering an L.A. priest who gave sanctuary to immigrants during Reagan era
By Mario T. García
December 11, 2015, 5:00 AM

Saturday is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico and Mexicans in the United States. It is also the 30th anniversary of the day Father Luis Olivares, the charismatic Roman Catholic priest, declared La Placita Church in downtown Los Angeles a sanctuary for Central American refugees. Like Syrians today, many regarded the Central Americans as “illegal aliens,” criminals or potential criminals. But for Olivares, they were children of God.

Born in San Antonio in 1934 and educated for the priesthood in Southern California, Olivares was a good company man and not a political activist at first. However, by his own admission, when he first met César Chávez in 1975, he underwent a “conversion.” He realized that the main role of a Catholic priest should be to minister to the poor and oppressed, including farmworkers and disenfranchised Mexican Americans in East Los Angeles. As the pastor of Our Lady of Solitude Church (“La Soledad”) in the barrio, he became a member of the grass-roots United Neighborhoods Organization.

In 1981, Olivares was transferred to La Placita. His transfer coincided with the influx of thousands of migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and other war-torn Central American countries who by the end of the decade would number half a million in Los Angeles.

The Reagan administration denied these desperate men, women and children political refugee status and instead labeled them illegal aliens. As undocumented immigrants, the Central Americans were subject to arrest and deportation. Olivares, however, rejected this classification as unjust. Working with Father Michael Kennedy, a Jesuit priest, Olivares fed, clothed and provided medical assistance to the refugees; he helped them find jobs and even housed some of them in La Placita Church, where they slept in the pews.


Latest Discussions»Editorials & Other Articles»Op-Ed Remembering an L.A....