WASHINGTON – Hundreds of Catholics representing nearly 20 national organizations gathered in solidarity last month in the nation’s capital to protest the administration’s practice of detaining migrant children. Friars from Holy Name Province were among the crowd demanding an end to this immoral and inhumane practice.
The Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children was co-sponsored by the Franciscan Action Network and brought together more than 200 Catholic sisters, brothers, priests, and lay advocates. The July 18 event – where 70 individuals were arrested for nonviolent acts of civil disobedience – was as much about compassion as it was a protest.
Participants prayed, sang and chanted the names of the eight children who have died while in the custody of detention facilities during Donald Trump’s term as president. They carried signs, some reading “Franciscans for Justice,” but all dramatically emblazoned with photos of the innocents. The goal of the protestors was to make clear the need to retrieve “the soul of America.”
The event organizers said they had hoped to increase the visibility of Catholics willing to take more risks to significantly improve the treatment of migrant children and put an end to child detention.
“We see the urgent inhumanity and injustice,” said Eli McCarthy, director of justice and peace for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men. “We are challenged by our faith to enter more deeply into solidarity, inspire others to take on more risks, to increasingly non-cooperate with injustice, and to live the Eucharist – being one body, ready to be broken for others. This is only the first phase of a three-part campaign to end child detention and thus create more political space to challenge family detention.”The event accomplished its goal, said Russ Testa, director of the HNP Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation. “It gainedthe attention of the media, which showed the faces of many concerned Catholics and their willingness to take extraordinary means to expose the terrible cost of the U.S. Government’s policies. The persons at the event are tired of seeing cruelty and behavior that is not only inconsistent with Christian beliefs, but with those of most Americans.”
A video posted on many social media sites shows Catholic leaders being arrested in the Senate Rotunda while praying for the end of the detention of immigrant children.
A Friar’s Passionate Address
Joseph Nangle, OFM, of Arlington, Va., was one of three speakers who addressed the press and participants at the event. Speaking first in English and then in Spanish, Joe looked back at America’s roots and ahead to the need for a progressive movement toward justice.
“Despite the soaring rhetoric about freedom and independence, the founding declaration of our country was riddled with racism and misogyny,” said Joe. “Written by several slave owners and excluding women from the right to vote – to have a say in the new country’s public life – the document contained one egregious insult with reference to the original Americans.”
He continued, “[The king] has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian savages whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.
“Our country was born to a significant extent into the darkness of what we now call ‘our national original sin.’ Now, more than 200 years later, we had thought that those sins had at least begun to be overcome. Slavery was officially abolished; women received the right to vote early in the 20th century, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s addressed the lingering injustices toward African Americans,” Joe said.
“However, these days, Donald Trump is dragging us back to those evil times with a combination of irrational fear, hatred toward people not like him, and sheer cruelty,” said Joe, who can be seen in a Daily Mail photo clutching his cane while being handcuffed and arrested by police.
“What is almost as evil,” Joe continued, “are that so-called Christians support, applaud and enable this descent into a new dark age in America.
Joe explained that the evidence for this is being spelled out today (at the protest) in detail by the action of this Catholic Coalition – particularly as we cite the crimes against humanity taking place, “even as we speak,” on our southern borders.
“Today, we make our own the words of El Paso’s Catholic Bishop, Mark Seitz, as he sees the daily horrors taking place between his city and Ciudad Juarez,” said Joe, noting that Bishop Seitz doesn’t mince words when he says that the U.S. government and society are not well.
“The bishop says we suffer from a life-threatening hardening of the heart. This, then, is why we are here. This is why we call on our millions of American Catholic sisters and brothers – particularly our bishops – to join in this struggle for the soul of America,” Joe said in his passionate plea.
He also had some words of comfort for “our Latino sisters and brothers,” especially the “little ones.” In Spanish, Joe said, “Let the media present here transmit these words to those victims through your fellow journalists who are witnessing first-hand the situations on our border. We love you and welcome you to the United States. You have a right to be here. We will continue to struggle toward that day when you will hear the words of God through the Prophet Isaiah: ‘Comfort, comfort my people, your trial is at an end… I have heard the cry of my people.’”
“I call my dear friars, together with the Franciscan sisters, to be part of what can be a great movement in favor of justice for the ‘lesser ones.’ It seems to me that this movement could boost a necessary renewal and revitalization of the Franciscan community in this country,” Joe said in an interview posted on the Order’s JPIC webpage.
FAN executive director Patrick Carolan, who said that Joe’s message was well-received by the media and crowd, was among the 70 participants arrested and transported to a processing center, where they were detained for four hours.
Other Friars Speak Out
“The event was important because of the absence of any significant statements from our religious leaders and bishops to denounce the un-American and inhumane treatment, especially of children, and the separation of fear-filled families,” said Ignatius Harding, OFM, of Triangle, Va., who attended with friars Walter Liss, OFM, and Erick Lopez, OFM.
“We carried pictures of the dead children, and photos of children locked in cages,” Ignatius said. “I asked everyone to close their eyes for a moment and picture their own children in those cages, and I further asked them to think of one [of the children] sick and dying, and imagine what rage would well up in them. If we Christians really believe that we are all sisters and brothers in Christ, then we all have to demand a change to this hateful practice and be part of the solution because our absence makes us all part of the problem.”
In a Daily Mail article, Walter, the guardian of Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md., was quoted as telling Roll Call: “I just think we can do better as a nation. I just don’t like what I’ve seen on TV – the way that people are being treated and/or scapegoated, you know, how people – especially people of color from other countries – are being blamed for all sorts of problems in society.”
Several parishioners of St. Camillus Church, located in Silver Spring just outside Washington, were among those arrested. “They were taken into custody during their prophetic action – for decrying the callous, cruel treatment of migrant children at the border, and the Trump Administration’s racist, fear-mongering, anti-life, punitive policies targeting migrants,” said Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, who participated in the event.
An article published by Roll Call shows a photo of a St. Camillus parishioner lying on the ground in the Russell Rotunda at the Capitol.
“Let’s give thanks for a blessing that interrupted news cycle after news cycle dominated by a president’s racism and chants calling for a congresswoman, who was herself a refugee, to be sent away,” said E.J. Dionne in a July 21 article in the Washington Post. “These women of faith, many in the winter of their lives, went beyond words to invoke a God of love who will judge us by how we treat strangers and children.”
Joe Nangle observed: “It was great to see that word of the protest has gone viral, as they say. I’ve heard reports of reactions from Brazil, Australia, London, Spain, Bolivia (demonstration in front of San Francisco, La Paz, in solidarity with the “religious of the U.S.), Chile, El Salvador. Amazing!”,
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.
- “Catholic Nuns, Leaders Arrested While Protesting Detention of Migrant Children” – July 18, 2019, Huff Post
- “Bishops Back Catholics Arrested at Capitol for Protesting” — America magazine
- “’Stand Up, Immigrants’ Campaign Launched” — June 6, 2018, HNP Today
- “A Multicultural Evening of Prayer in Solidarity with Immigrants, Refugees and Pope Francis” — Feb. 24, 2016, HNP Today
- “America’s Sense of Exceptionalism” – Jan. 4, 2016, HNP Today