It is the third year in a row that Felipe Tovar, a blind immigrant born in Salamanca, Mexico has joined the 52-mile long “Siempre Adelante”, “Always Forward” walk.
As his feet grew sore and blistered along the way, his wife Mercedes patiently healed the wounds with gauze and bandages. On Sunday, June 24 they arrived at the Mission Dolores Church in Los Angeles.
It was the last stop on their route. They were only 2.6 miles away from their final destination: Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral, arriving in time for an annual regional Mass in honor of immigrants.
The sun had not even appeared when the pilgrims departed on their journey from the Santiago de Compostela Church in Lake Forest at 4:05 am.
From Trabuco Road to Irvine Boulevard they reached the city of Santa Ana. After 22.4 miles, they rested and stayed overnight in the St. Boniface Catholic Church in Anaheim.
They had in mind the phrase “Always Forward” of St. Junipero Serra, under the banner in Spanish “Siempre Adelante.”
Theirs was not a protest walk. It was a long march of prayer for immigration reform.
“Who lives? Christ!” “To his name, Glory!” “And to his people? Victory!”, pilgrims shouted through the streets. With rosaries in hand, walkers remembered the mysteries of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the assumption and coronation of the Virgin Mary.
They embodied the experience of the Old Testament desert. They emulated the experience of exiled Jews in Egypt who for many generations suffered oppression, abuse, and injustice.
For the fifth consecutive year they walk amid a society that refuses to recognize that our relationship with the compassionate and merciful God has been broken.
However, Felipe’s mission on the walk to Los Angeles was simple: prostrate before the cross of Christ and kiss the image of the Blessed Virgin in the Los Angeles cathedral.
He would ask their intercession for a miracle of God: comprehensive and just immigration reform for 11 million undocumented living in the United States.
“I am a U.S. citizen and I can defend myself,” says Tovar. “But there are millions of our brothers and sisters who are asking for justice and humane treatment.”
He learned this message from his son Bryan. The 17-year-old boy – born in the United States – was the one who inspired him to be part of the walk. In 2015, Bryan traveled the entire 52 miles.
The second day of the trip covered 23 miles, from Anaheim to the City of Commerce. It was 5:30 pm on Saturday, June 23 and the group arrived for a Mass at St. Marcellinus Catholic Church. The parish has the images of Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus at the main entrance.
“Fortunately, these pilgrims walk together,” said Dr. Humberto Ramos, director of parish life at St. Marcellinus. “If we had lived in other times, [the immigration authorities] would have taken baby Jesus from his parents.”
Now more than ever the drama of those emigrants and their children who had to leave their home and their land to seek a better life in the United States is prevalent.
Cruel policies, extreme poverty or gang violence in Central American countries have driven thousands to risk everything to seek refuge in a distant country.
For Felipe, the walk required a superhuman effort. He used his cane to support himself. The reason for that? Seven years ago, he lost his sight.
He, his wife Mercedes and the group walked the streets of East Los Angeles towards the Dolores Mission Church.
“With Christ, I can do everything,” Tovar said. “Here I go, struggling, trying to take care of myself and walking in favor of our immigrant brothers.”
On the third day of the walk, Felipe and the pilgrims were joined by Bishop David O’Connell, from the pastoral region of San Gabriel.
The day was hot. Almost 95 degrees.
At the Dolores Mission the group was offered natural and flavored horchata, pineapple, strawberry or chia with lemon, and as breakfast, Mexican appetizers: quesadillas, huaraches, tacos, menudo, and other dishes.
All just nourished the body because the soul had already been fed during the walk with prayers.
And they continued their way to Our Lady Queen of Los Angeles in the Olvera Plaza where Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles joined the pilgrims.
At the end of Mass, Rev. Gómez summed up the migration reality of the United States and the inaction and unfulfilled promises of Congress: “No más mañanas” [“No more tomorrows”].
Even though there is no simple answer for as divisive a topic as immigration, Tovar does not lose hope.
“Christ and our Lady can help God work the miracle,” he said. “We can’t give up, because God is the one who moves hearts.”