The Little Parish That Could: How a Church in the Barrio Became a Life-Saving Force


Story by Clement D.



Located at the corner of Pasadena and 20th St. in the heart of Long Beach, Holy Innocents Catholic Church easily blends in with an impoverished neighborhood best known for Snoop Dogg. But despite its humble appearance, the Church has a proud history, both past and present. Founded on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, 1923, the parish was home to Venerable Mother Maria Luisa Josefa who first brought the Carmelite nuns to Los Angeles after fleeing religious persecution in Mexico. As time went on, however, with dwindling mass attendance and lack of financial means, the Church’s history was almost forgotten and its original beauty slowly deteriorated. By the time the current pastor, Fr. Peter Irving III, arrived, mass attendance averaged around fifty on Sundays, and plans were already underway to sell the property to the city of Long Beach. Within thirteen years of his arrival, a parish once on the verge of extinction has become a vibrant community and a formidable pro-life force.


From the time he was ordained in 1983, Fr. Peter has always been actively involved with the pro-life movement. Early on in his priesthood, he worked with Operation Rescue, which, in its early days, led non-violent protests to prevent abortions by blocking entrances to abortion facilities (those who participated were often arrested and prosecuted). Today, he leads a parish, which is named for the infants killed during King Herod’s search for the Child Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, that stands only a mile from an abortion clinic, FPA Women’s Health. Many of the women in the surrounding neighborhood who become pregnant may not have the financial means to parent, so abortion may seem like the only viable option. Thanks to Holy Innocents, they now have another.


The core of the Holy Innocents pro-life effort is a small group of women who stand outside the local abortion clinic praying and offering alternatives to the women who pass through the facility. Among the resources offered are referrals to two local, pro-life physicians, who, among other things, offer counseling and ultrasounds. The work of the group of women, dubbed “sidewalk counseling” by pro-lifers, requires having “a thick skin,” said Fr. Peter in an interview with Immaculate Heart Radio, since sidewalk counselors are often met with “a barrage of obscenities and even threats of violence.” But through their efforts, this small group of women has helped bring 1,279 abortion-bound children to term, with more being saved every week. In addition to sidewalk counseling, the parish takes up a monthly collection for their pro-life ministry. Through such collections, Holy Innocents has provided new mothers with car seats, strollers, and has even paid hospital bills. Supporting these mothers, however, does not require extraordinary financial means — in fact, Holy Innocents is considered a poor parish. As Fr. Peter notes, “Just about any parish could do what we are doing.”

This small group of women has helped bring 1,279 abortion-bound children to term, with more being saved every week.

Fr. Peter recognizes that abortion is a highly sensitive issue, so whenever it is addressed in the parish community, “We do it in a very non-threatening way because everyone is touched in one way or another,” he told Angelus News. Instead, by primarily focusing on the beauty and worth of every human life, Fr. Peter has created a pro-life tone in the parish community. “I do not talk about abortion every Sunday,” he says. “I don’t have to. Instead I can get up and say every week ‘Folks, good news! Two more babies were saved this week’ … Nobody can argue with that.” At the same time, under Fr. Peter’s leadership, the parish community has become deeply aware of the harrowing reality of abortion. The parish bulletin, for example, does not shy away from graphic imagery and provocative language: there is updated tally of all the “babies saved from an agonizing death at Long Beach’s … abortion chamber.” The tally comes with an image of a fetus bleeding to death with a crown of thorns around its head, linking the death of an unborn child to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But more than mere provocation, this language is intended to remind parishioners that abortion is the taking of a valuable human life. On the other side of the bulletin are the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “Every child who is born brings us God's smile and invites us to recognize that life is his gift, a gift to be welcomed with love and preserved with care, always and at every moment.”


For Fr. Peter, being pro-life is a logical consequence of acknowledging the dignity of every human being and their unalienable right to life. “There’s a holocaust of human beings happening in our backyard and once you deal with that fact, the next step is asking, ‘What am I going to do?’” Being pro-life at Holy Innocents means more than just going on marches or being upset with the status quo: it means recognizing abortion as the taking of an innocent life and courageously defending the defenseless in all times and seasons. “At Holy Innocents,” Fr. Peter says, “We do not do anything for Respect Life Month because every month is respect life month, every day is Respect Life Day at Holy Innocents. It’s just what we do.”

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