A City of the Angels, a City of Saints

!Bienvenidos! It gives me joy to welcome you to the City of the Angels!

Los Angeles is the largest Catholic community in the United States and probably the most diverse — in terms of race, ethnicity, culture, economic status and even geography.

We have about 5 million Catholics here and we cover a territory that is larger than the state of New Jersey — and within this territory, we have some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the United States and some of the poorest.

Los Angeles was originally called El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Porciuncula — given this name by the Franciscan missionaries, who came here about a decade before the Declaration of Independence. America’s newest saint, St. Junípero Serra, had a hand in founding the Church here.

Of the nine missions Padre Serra founded in California, two are located in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles — Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, founded here in 1771, and San Buenaventura, founded in 1782. It’s wonderful to reflect that El Camino Real, “The King’s Highway,” the original missionary trail blazed by this great saint is now one of America’s busiest highways, US Route 101, “The Hollywood Freeway,” which runs past our beautiful Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

From the beginning, the Catholic Church in Los Angeles has been multi-cultural and multi-racial. The original families of the Pueblo included Africans, Indians, Europeans, and Asians from the Pacific Islands. Today, about 70 percent of our Catholic people are Latinos — but we have big populations from almost every country in Latin and South America and from Asia, Africa, Oceania, Europe and the Middle East. We celebrate the liturgy here in more than 40 different languages.

It is really amazing here. You can see how the seeds of the Gospel have been sown in every culture. And yu can see how these seeds have borne rich fruit — in popular piety; in songs and customs; in artwork and poetry; in unique devotions to the Blessed Mother and to national saints.

Los Angeles is a city of the world, a metropolis. It is also a culture of encounter and a culture of immigrants.

The Catholic community is active and engaged in the life of Los Angeles — in our neighborhoods and civic life. Our parishes and Archdiocesan agencies provide charitable services to nearly 1 million people each year, most of them non-Catholic.

We run preschools and after-school programs; assisted living and senior facilities; shelters for the homeless and domestic violence victims. We provide substance abuse and mental health counseling. We run anti-gang and neighborhood development programs.

We also have about 300 schools that serve about 80,000 young people — that makes us one of the largest school systems in the state, public or private. About two-thirds of the children we serve are from minority households and about one-third come from families living below the poverty line.

We are also deeply committed to the new evangelization of our city, our country and our continent. Our award-winning weekly magazine, Angelus and our daily e-newsletter, Always Forward, have become recognized nationwide as essential reading for understanding the world from a Catholic perspective. We have a vital presence in the social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The other thing you need to know about the Church in Los Angeles is that we are young and growing. In the last ten years, we have been baptizing an average of nearly 70,000 infants every year.

If you are thinking that is a lot — you are right! But now think about this: every year we are baptizing more infants in Los Angeles than the combined total of all infant baptisms in the Archdioceses of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. And remember: New York and Chicago are the second and third largest Catholic communities in the country.

This points to the truth that we are a young Church, a Church that is alive with apostolic energy.

But it also points to our responsibility. We are responsible for these young lives, these young souls. We are called to build a culture that nurtures their faith and helps them to grow in holiness and love.

This is not only the responsibility of priests and bishops and religious brothers and sisters. Every one who is baptized shares responsibility for the Church’s mission.

This is what we are trying to do in all are programs and priorities. We are trying to raise up a new generation of saints and missionary disciples to proclaim the beautiful truth of the Gospel. 

Since the days of our spiritual founder, St. Junípero, this city of the angels has been a city of saints.

So much of our geography is named for saints — cities like Santa Barbara and Santa Monica, the San Gabriel and Santa Susana Mountains, the Santa Clarita Valley. In the places where we walk, so many saints have walked! There are saints whose names we know — St. Francis Cabrini, St. John Paul II, soon-to-be St. Mother Teresa. And of course, St. Junípero Serra, the spiritual father of our city.

But there are many others who have visited Los Angeles or made their home here for a time. The names of the Servant of god Dorothy Day, Blessed Maria Inés Teresa, Venerable María Luisa Josefa (“Mother Luisita”) and Blessed Irmã Dulce Pontes, Sister Ida Petrify and the Servant of God Bishop Alphonse Gallegos  

Their presence continues to inspire us — our city was founded and nourished by saints and we know that we have a vocation to be saints and to lead others to be saints, too.

I have come to see that the future of the Catholic Church in this country — the future of the Catholic Church in the American continent — is already “here now” in Los Angeles.

If you want to know what the Church is going to look like throughout the Americas, and if you want to know what that means — for how we worship, how we serve, how we form priests and disciples, and how we evangelize and engage the culture — this is the place you need to come.

So, welcome!