L.A.'s Oldest Roman Catholic Church Mobilizes Mexico Earthquake Relief Effort

L.A.’s historic Our Lady Queen of Angels church, is commemorating victims of the Mexico earthquake with several days of church service dedications, vigils and fundraising. (Steven CUevas / KQED)

As search teams continue to dig through mountains of rubble and ruin in the aftermath of this week’s deadly Mexico earthquake, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto has declared three days of national mourning.

In Los Angeles, the grief runs deep throughout the city’s sprawling Roman Catholic Archdiocese.

L.A.’s historic Our Lady Queen of  Angels church, known as La Placita, is considered the spiritual cradle of Catholicism in the city.

L.A.’s historic Our Lady Queen of Angels church.
L.A.’s historic Our Lady Queen of Angels church. (Steven Cuevas/KQED)

The church and adjacent Spanish Mission-style buildings on the edge of Chinatown date back to the late 18th century and the predominantly Latino congregation and clergy have deep ties to Mexico. All daily church services are in Spanish.

“The archdiocese has 284 parishes and this is the first one, founded back in 1781,” says the Rev. Luis Estrada Rivera, an associate pastor at the church.

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La Placita is commemorating victims of the Mexico earthquake with several days of church service dedications, vigils and fundraising.

“We will do special Masses for the rest of this week and through the weekend and perhaps even on into next week,” says Estrada Rivera.

A small crowd of worshipers gathered inside the ornate downtown church on Thursday night.  Together their voices  unified in hymns, could fill the heavens.

Victims, survivors, the spirit of Mexico itself were mourned for and celebrated in song and prayer during a two hour evening Mass and vigil Thursday night at L.A.’s historic Our Lady Queen of Angels church. (Steven Cuevas / KQED)

Victims, survivors, the spirit of Mexico itself were  mourned for and celebrated in song and prayer during a two hour evening Mass and vigil.

Outside the church, Galilea Camposano lit a candle at a shrine for the Virgin of Guadalupe.

“Every week, I’ve (come) to bring the candles and cry and I ask 'help me please, the situation is bad, you know,'” says Camposano.

Camposano says a prayer to the Virgin helps get her through life’s every day travails, this week especially.

She left the Cuernavaca area 29 years age as a teenager. She's only returned once. The region was hit hard. Her sister is still there, other family and friends too so Thursday night's prayers were special

“I pray for them for the people,” says Camposano. “I was in front of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and my heart is broken because my city, you know? My people,” she adds, her voice trailing off.

The immense Our Lady of Guadalupe mural at L.A.’s historic Our Lady Queen of Angels church.
The immense Our Lady of Guadalupe mural at L.A.’s historic Our Lady Queen of Angels church. (Steven Cuevas/KQED)

Many parishioners, even some from Guatemala and El Salvador, said they have no family in areas rocked by the earthquake. Yet they came to pray for their Mexican sisters and brothers. At a time like this said one woman , "We’re all Mexican, we’re all one."

“I see a lot of unity and I see a lot of devotion in the families that we have here,"  says the Rev. Luis Estrada Rivera. "They come with open hearts willing to pray, willing to do anything for our brothers and sisters who got devastated in this earthquake.”

Church employee Medea Lopez has family on the edge of Mexico City. They’re safe, but without power. Water is being  trucked in. The family home is standing. But the store her relatives work in is badly damaged, so they don’t know how they’ll earn money.

Asked what her family and their neighbors need most?

“Oración,” says Lopez in Spanish.

“Oracion y ayuda monetaria.”

Prayers and financial help.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has not finalized a formal earthquake relief effort, but a spokeswoman says individual churches are already directing efforts of their own.

The Rev. Arturo Corral (r) and associate pastor the Rev. Luis Estrada Rivera (l) of Our Lady Queen of Angels church in Los Angeles are helping their Latino congregation cope after a massive earthquake in Mexico. (Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles)

Estrada Rivera  says they  collected about $7,000 during last Sunday’s services. That and future collections will now be steered to earthquake relief.

“And right after I finish with you, I'm going to go to the bank and do the wire transaction. It will go to Mexico,” he says.

The church has also been collecting money for victims of the massive earthquake that rumbled across parts of southern Mexico two weeks ago.

“We can pray for them and we can unite in prayer,  but we need to help our brothers and sisters who are in need financially," he says.

This post has been updated.