Father Luis Olivares, a Biography: Faith Politics and the Origins of the Sanctuary Movement in Los Angeles

Father Luis Olivares, a Biography: Faith Politics and the Origins of the Sanctuary Movement in Los Angeles

Father Luis Olivares, a Biography: Faith Politics and the Origins of the Sanctuary Movement in Los Angeles

Father Luis Olivares, a Biography: Faith Politics and the Origins of the Sanctuary Movement in Los Angeles

Synopsis

This is the amazing untold story of the Los Angeles sanctuary movement's champion, Father Luis Olivares (1934-1993), a Catholic priest and a charismatic, faith-driven leader for social justice. Beginning in 1980 and continuing for most of the decade, hundreds of thousands of Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees made the hazardous journey to the United States, seeking asylum from political repression and violence in their home states. Instead of being welcomed by the "country of immigrants," they were rebuffed by the Reagan administration, which supported the governments from which they fled. To counter this policy, a powerful sanctuary movement rose up to provide safe havens in churches and synagogues for thousands of Central American refugees.

Based on previously unexplored archives and over ninety oral histories, this compelling biography traces the life of a complex and constantly evolving individual, from Olivares's humble beginnings in San Antonio, Texas, to his close friendship with legendary civil rights leader Cesar Chavez and his historic leadership of the United Neighborhoods Organization and the sanctuary movement.

Excerpt

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you
gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you
clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me
.

—Matthew 25:35–36

To know God is to do Justice.
—Jeremiah 20:13–16

When an alien resides with you in your land, do not molest him.
You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the
natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself,
for you, too, were once aliens in the land of Egypt
.

—Leviticus 19:33–34

You cannot be witness to human suffering and not be convinced
of the existence of social sin. We are all responsible unless we take
a stand and speak up
.

—Fr. Luis Olivares, 1990

On a warm September evening in 1990, a rather large congregation of people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds gathered to honor Fr. Luis Olivares, the former pastor of Our Lady Queen of Angeles, better known as La Placita Church. Tables were arranged in the public open space by the Plaza bandstand adjacent to the Olvera Street marketplace in downtown Los Angeles and directly across from La Placita. Dignitaries such as mayor Tom Bradley, state representatives who had passed a resolution declaring September 5 as “Father Olivares Day,” city and county officials who had renamed Olvera Street Fr. Luis Olivares Street for that day, family members, religious leaders from different denominations, movie and entertainment figures such as Martin Sheen and Jackson Browne, as well as friends and colleagues, all came to celebrate the life and accomplishments of this Claretian priest. Also in attendance was the aging icon of the Chicano Movement and of the farmworkers’ struggle, César Chávez.

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