Los Angeles Herald Examiner (September 11, 1987)

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (September 11, 1987)

Title – “Juan Pablo won’t see”

In an August article in The Tidings, the newspaper of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, it was reported that Juan Pablo II’s itinerary for his visit to America targets cities with large Latino populations, the vast majority of whom are Catholic. In Miami, San Antonio and Los Angeles, the pope plans to make a special appeal to Latinos in Spanish.

Unfortunately, Juan Pablo will see little of the Latino community while here. The reason: Papal security. Law enforcement has designated St. Vibiana’s Cathedral where the pope will stay, a foreign embassy, which means the police can legally remove anyone within 500 feet of the cathedral. The homeless at the Union Rescue Mission next door also have been moved out of sight and out of mind, for security as well as cosmetic reasons.

The tight security arrangements disappoint many Latinos, who would like Juan Pablo to see their problems close up. Some, disillusioned with the promises of the “decade of the Hispanic,” want the pope to celebrate more than their numbers. They would like him to know that they would appreciate receiving the same kind of support he has given the Solidarity movement in Poland.

If Juan Pablo would look east, across the Los Angeles River, he would understand why they feel this way. There, he would find that few Latinos hold stable jobs; that poor workers face serious obstacles when attempting to organize. Only 18 percent of the American workforce today is unionized, and the percentage of minority union members is even lower.

In short, the rules are stacked against unions. For instance, two years ago a National Labor Relations Board dominated by Reagan appointees broke a strike of Morenci, Arizona copper miners, by allowing scabs to vote on whether or not to certify striking locals. And Gov. George Deukmejian has all but sentenced the California Agricultural Relations Board to death in his quest to destroy the United Farm Workers Union.

The pope also would find that Latinos are overwhelmingly clustered in lower paying industries, with large numbers of undocumented workers stuck in a secondary labor market. Labor organizers flatly assert that it is impossible to organize this sector. As a result, many Latino families earn just enough to rent dwellings infested with rats and roaches, often having to choose between paying the rent or feeding their families.

The pope will probably remain ignorant of these conditions, because the planners of the papal tour in Los Angeles seem more intent on not offending their white constituents than in exposing the pope to life in the Latino communities. True, pope advance men indicate a willingness to involve (***cut off word***), gays, women rights groups and middle-class Catholics. But I would be shocked if Latino leaders were asked to discuss either racism in America or the inequities in the U.S. workplace in the presence of the pope.

You can bet that if the subject of racial inequality does come up, our elected officials will accentuate the positive. Juan Pablo will be told of the tremendous strides Los Angeles has made in improving human relations and ameliorating poverty. As proof of their sincerity, they will surely point to a plan to construct a $150 million Statue of Liberty West at the Terminal Annex.

Our elected leaders will omit, of course, California’s plan to build another prison at the doorstep of East Los Angeles, within a two-mile radius of 26 schools. They will pass over the fat that neither the mayor nor the City Council have diligently fought this travesty. Nor will the city’s largest and most powerful Catholic group, the United Neighborhood Organization, be criticized, for laying the burden of the prison battle onto little Resurrection Parish. Finally, no mention will be made of The Tidings’ failure to keep the prison issue at the top of the Catholic agenda.

The irony in all this is that if Catholic Church is to achieve its goal of regenerating the family, it must preserve communities. Unwanted prisons destroy communities. Many Latinos feel that if the pope knew about the prison and its effects, he would be morally obligated to speak out.

Juan Pablo, I wish that the theme of your visit were not such a big secret. Just on moral terms, Latinos are poor and have for too long been ignored by the American Catholic Church. Poland is not the only country that needs a “Solidarity” movement. Bienvenida.