Most Americans have warm and sunny thoughts of Southern California. It is a place for family vacations: Disney World, Venice Beach, Hollywood, Universal Studios.
Southern California is the home of surfers and stars, a laid-back culture of beautiful people who set the style trends for the rest of America. It is permissive and passionate in its pursuit of pleasure.
But for many in Southern California, dreams of stardom and the good life are lost to the daily struggle to make ends meet. A large segment of the population has different dreams than a visit to the Magic Kingdom. They are looking for a way to support their children, give them an education, and provide them the opportunity for a better life.
The lion’s share of this “other” population is Hispanic, with a heritage mostly from Mexico and various Central American countries. This Hispanic population makes up roughly half of the nearly 10 million people in Los Angeles County. This makes the county the largest Hispanic population among all American counties – and there isn’t a close second.
As a recent report by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation shows,the gap between Hispanics and the rest of the population – from an economic perspective – is substantial. A few key statistics:
- 4 percent of Hispanics age 25 and older have a high school diploma; for the rest of the population it is 77.3 percent.
- Hispanic median household income is $46,850; for the rest of the population it is $59,135.
- 5 percent of Hispanic families in Los Angeles are living in poverty.
- Unemployment is 7.4 percent for Hispanics and 6.9 percent for others.
However, the wealth of a community is not only in the material. Its greatest treasure lies in the spiritual, which in Southern California’s Hispanic community is grounded in the Catholic Faith. That faith is supported by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and its and many parishes and programs.
In fact, the largest segment of the Catholic population in the archdiocese is Hispanic. There are 228 parishes with an organized Hispanic ministry, and nearly 370,000 attend the 638 weekly Masses in Spanish.
The faith also is strengthened by Guadalupe Radio,a far-reaching apostolate of the Legionaries of Christ. And despite the name, it includes outreach programs, videos, publications, events that inspire people to return to parishes and the archdiocese – in addition to 24-hour-a-day radio programming.
“What we have is a church on wheels,” said Fr. Lorenzo Gomez, LC, who heads institution advancement for Guadalupe Radio. He explained that the station reaches five-six million listeners (Spanish speaking) a month from Los Angeles to Tijuana, Mexico.
If you visit the Hispanic communities in Southern California, you will hear Guadalupe Radio blaring from car radios. A high percentage of women listen at home or at work where permitted. And don’t be surprised if you hear the rosary coming from the speakers of a delivery truck. For many people who work long hours – and may not read English or Spanish well – it is a true spiritual lifeline.
Fr. Gomez said that everything the apostolate does is designed to evangelize, either bringing people to the faith or helping them return to the faith if they have wandered away. Because some of those reached are new immigrants or in extreme poverty, they are facing issues with drugs, abuse, gangs, and marital infidelity. Although generalizations can be dangerous, he says sees many families where the men are rather savage – and the women brave, depending on their faith to hold the household together.
“We attract them through the radio, then through various programs, then encourage them back into the parishes,” Father explained. “God uses the radio to give people a chance to come to the faith. Some families have faced tragedy, but every family that comes to us becomes a miracle, a miracle of conversion…you see God’s work all the time.”
He explained that Guadalupe Radio provides formation in the faith to people who have had little formal education. Couples that have live together but never married come back to the Church and experience the blessing of a sacramental union.
A remarkable aspect of the apostolate is how it raises money. While there are some significant benefactors, the bulk of the budget comes from the people who are helped.
“It is beautiful to see how generous people are – people who have so little,” Fr. Gomez said. “We just had a fundraising campaign that raised $1.2 million and nearly all of it came in small amounts: $10, $20, maybe $50. People see the change Christ has made in their lives and they want to help.”
Those small donations – coming in the thousands – allow Guadalupe Radio to conduct its wide variety of programs and events. And some of them are nothing short of monumental.
The Women of Faith International Congress– sponsored by Radio Guadalupe – drew 15,000 attendees to the Los Angeles Convention Center the first weekend of February, 2019. It is the largest event in the country to address the needs of Spanish-speaking women and featured a combination of inspirational speakers, faith leaders, and entertainers.
Guadalupe Radio sponsors half a dozen events on this scale each year. Fr. Gomez points out, however, that events for men draw a smaller crowd (only about 5,000). That seems to go with the reality that in the Hispanic community in Los Angeles, the women tend to take the lead to responding to evangelization.
Another major event upcoming April 13-14, 2019, is Cristo Vive,a remarkable presentation of Christ’s Passion, presented at the 1600-seat United Artist Theater in Los Angeles.It will be a live stage production with more than 100 actors. There will be six performances, almost certainly to have every seat filled. Last year’s event, at the 2000-seat Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles was a sellout (five performances).
Fr. Gomez insisted that none of these huge events – or the regular programs of the radio station – would happen without the participation of the laity. In fact, lay Catholics are the staff, the management, the technical expertise and the force that gets everything practical done. And by having lay leadership, he and the other Legionaries in Los Angeles are able to concentrate on priestly things.
“Our priests concentrate on preaching, sacraments, and spiritual direction,” Father said. “Having lay people doing the management and production is a real blessing.
“It is mission work, but in a city. Like missions during holy week to remote villages, but instead of going out and knocking on doors we are using the radio.
“To me, the greatest accomplishment is to bring the Catholic Church to so many people – it is evangelization, 24 hours a day. To bring God to this society is so beautiful – and last year we had five young men decide to test a vocation with the Legionaries of Christ.”