LIFESTYLE

Statue Of Unofficial Patron Saint Of Border-Crossers Tours Southern California Churches

LOS ANGELES - APRIL 5:  A woman crawls to the altar on her knees in penitence, an act common in Mexican congregations, as people pray in Nuestra Senora Reina de Los Angeles Catholic Church which was founded in 1781 and is currently attended primarily by Latino immigrants April 5, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. As the demographics of large cities in the U.S. continue to shift, populations of large U.S. cities would shrink without immigrants who provide the only source of growth as native-born Americans move to other regions, according to Census Bureau estimates released this week. Without the influx of immigrants from 2000 to 2006, the New York metro region would have lost an estimated nearly 600,000 people while the Los Angeles area would have lost more than 200,000, San Francisco down by 188,000 and Boston 101,000 people. The U.S. has about 36 million immigrants, a third of whom are in the country illegally. Many people believe that a shrinking population would hurt the U.S. economy.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES - APRIL 5: A woman crawls to the altar on her knees in penitence, an act common in Mexican congregations, as people pray in Nuestra Senora Reina de Los Angeles Catholic Church which was founded in 1781 and is currently attended primarily by Latino immigrants April 5, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. As the demographics of large cities in the U.S. continue to shift, populations of large U.S. cities would shrink without immigrants who provide the only source of growth as native-born Americans move to other regions, according to Census Bureau estimates released this week. Without the influx of immigrants from 2000 to 2006, the New York metro region would have lost an estimated nearly 600,000 people while the Los Angeles area would have lost more than 200,000, San Francisco down by 188,000 and Boston 101,000 people. The U.S. has about 36 million immigrants, a third of whom are in the country illegally. Many people believe that a shrinking population would hurt the U.S. economy. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)  (2007 Getty Images)

Immigrants are flocking to churches in Southern California to see a wooden statue of a saint cherished by border-crossers who make the perilous journey to the United States.

The 4-foot-tall statue of Santo Toribio Romo González was flown from the Mexican state of Jalisco, and is making stops in churches in three California counties, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

Many immigrants say Romo González has appeared to them during difficult moments on their journeys north, with some carrying a photo of the saint in their wallets.

"I owe him everything," said José Ochoa, a 32-year-old cook who welcomed the statue to his church in Lake Forest. Before Ochoa crossed the border illegally in 2005 with his 4-year-old son to reunite with his wife and family, he had been given a small, laminated photo of the saint by his grandfather. "I couldn't imagine dying without coming to see him to say thank you."

Romo González was a priest killed during a 1928 religious uprising and was canonized 14 years ago. His statue will be received at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles next Sunday.

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In his Mexican hometown Santa Ana de Guadalupe, tens of thousands of pilgrims arrive weekly to pay tribute to the saint's bones, which are kept in a small casket. Locals peddle saint-themed key chains and figurines to tourists and businesses ranging from a pharmacy to an ice cream shop bear his name.

In the United States, immigrants, especially those from Mexico, have come to cherish the saint. A church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, built a shrine to Romo González after a tough anti-immigration law was passed in the state.

Church officials say while beloved to many, Romo González, has not been officially recognized as a patron to immigrants.

"He's the people's saint," said Ed Benioff, director of the Office of New Evangelization for the Los Angeles Archdiocese. "His legend has grown from the start in the most grass-roots way."

In Commerce, parishioners celebrated the statue's arrival with song and dance and took turns touching its chest, where a bone from the saint's ankle is kept behind a piece of glass.

Francisca Romero, 56, said she came to see the statue out of concern for relatives and friends and the thousands of immigrant children arriving on the U.S. border in Texas in recent months.

"I want this saint to keep them safe from all harm and to please help us all," she said.

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