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 CNS Story:

TULSA-SHRINE Jun-3-2008 (800 words) With photos. xxxn

Tulsa parish establishes shrine to patron saint of immigrants

By Dave Crenshaw
Catholic News Service

TULSA, Okla. (CNS) -- In response to seven months of living with one of the toughest immigration laws in the nation, a predominantly Hispanic parish in Tulsa has established a diocesan shrine to St. Toribio Romo, considered by many to be the patron saint of immigrants.

Aside from the original shine to St. Toribio in his hometown of Santa Ana de Guadalupe in the Mexican state of Jalisco, it is believed to be the only other shrine to him in the world.

On May 21, Bishop Edward J. Slattery of Tulsa signed a proclamation establishing the shrine during a special Mass and blessing at Sts. Peter and Paul Church.

A second Mass was celebrated May 25 by Father Gabriel Gonzalez, proctor of the original shrine in Mexico. About 300 people gathered early that morning at the largest Catholic church in Oklahoma, Tulsa's St. Francis Xavier Church and Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and processed six miles to the new shrine at Sts. Peter and Paul for a daylong celebration.

Father Tim Davison, Sts. Peter and Paul's pastor, recently returned from Santa Ana de Guadalupe with a rare relic of the martyred priest and announced plans for the shrine.

The idea came from a parishioner, Simone Navarro, shortly before Oklahoma's immigration law -- the Oklahoma Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act of 2007 -- went into effect last Nov. 1.

"I wanted a place where immigrants could pray in peace," Navarro, a native of Mexico, told the Eastern Oklahoma Catholic, Tulsa's diocesan newspaper.

The idea began to grow quickly, and Father Davison said God's hand has become apparent as the shrine became a reality.

"It's not like I sat down and dreamed this up. I'm just trying to keep up with how quickly it is moving. It's a very ambitious project for such a small parish," said Father Davison, who was pastor at St. Francis Xavier prior to being assigned to Sts. Peter and Paul.

Pending approval from city authorities, Father Davison hopes to close the street in front of the church and build a chapel, fountain and gardens dedicated to St. Toribio. An office building and gift shop also are on the drawing board.

Through a fundraising committee and with a large anonymous donation, about half of the money needed has been raised. If city officials approve his plans, Father Davison said, he hopes to have the chapel and gardens in place sometime in 2009.

He also plans to make the celebration honoring the saint an annual event on or about May 25, St. Toribio's feast day. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000.

Since the passage of the state's immigration law, which makes it a felony to aid or assist an illegal immigrant, many Hispanics in the Tulsa Diocese have said they see discrimination on the rise. Exact numbers are hard to come by, but thousands of immigrants are known to have left the state.

Claudia Davila, a parishioner of Sts. Peter and Paul, attended both celebrations honoring St. Toribio.

"We have many families who are struggling because of the new law. This will really help support them and make them feel stronger," she said.

Father Gonzalez is pastor of the small church in Mexico that houses the remains of St. Toribio. The saint was born there April 16, 1900, and he helped build the existing church, which seats only about 100 people.

Father Gonzalez said that he typically serves about 15,000 pilgrims each week who have come to pray to the saint. He said as many as 60,000 people have attended Sunday Mass in Santa Ana de Guadalupe. Work has begun on a new church that will seat 2,000.

"I am happy to see that the sincere devotion to St. Toribio is not exclusive to Mexico. I am happy to be a part of this celebration here," he said.

Father Toribio Romo Gonzalez was martyred by Mexican federal troops in 1928 during the Cristero Wars, an uprising against Mexico's anti-Catholic government. It is said St. Toribio appears to many Mexican immigrants in the Sonoran Desert -- which covers large parts of Arizona and California and the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California -- and assists them as they make their way north seeking work in the United States.

Navarro, who suggested the shrine last August, hopes it will become a place of peace and a sanctuary for Hispanics facing hard times.

"We have no desire to displace anyone here or to take anyone's job," he said. "We just want to contribute to the church and to society. I hope the shrine becomes a place of prayer where we can strengthen our faith and pray for our friends and family."


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