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Franciscan Conference on Migration Held in NYC

From left to right: Christian Seno, Ramón Razón, and Dennis Bennett at the Franciscan Common Ground conference. (Photo courtesy of Christian)

From left to right: Christian Seno, Ramón Razón, and Dennis Bennett at the Franciscan Common Ground conference. (Photo courtesy of Christian)

NEW YORK — On Saturday, May 21, approximately 60 members of the Franciscan family and our partners-in-ministry gathered at San Damiano Hall on West 31st Street for Franciscan Common Ground, an inter-Franciscan conference on migration. Franciscan Common Ground was organized by Julian Jagudilla, OFM, and the Migrant Center of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi.

The day began with a bilingual morning prayer and an introduction from Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM. He welcomed the participants of the conference and underscored the importance of a Franciscan response to the current issues of global migration, relaying General Minister Michael Perry’s assertion that a focus on the issues affecting migrants is one of the key responsibilities of the Order.

Perhaps the most emotionally charged portion of the conference was the testimonies of three immigrants, who have used their experiences to advocate for immigration reform and the rights of other migrants. We heard from Rosario, an undocumented mother who shared the pain and difficulties of being separated from her family; Antonio, who detailed the perils of crossing the border; and Thyrelle, a 23-year-old from Belize who spoke of the uncertain and frustrating legal process facing migrants once they arrive in the U.S. Their stories touched our hearts and gave us first-hand accounts of the price our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters have to pay to survive.

The second part of Franciscan Common Ground involved presentations from experts in the field, including Ashley Feasley, director of advocacy for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), Fray Tomás Gonzalez Cástillo, OFM, of La72 in Tenosique, Mexio, Monika Treber, of the Archdiocese of Berlin, and Tony Cube, the campaign national manager of Justice for Immigrants (USCCB). The last part of the conference was a breakout session facilitated by Russ Testa, director of Holy Name Province’s Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, that enabled us to reflect on our current roles as Franciscan religious and partners in ministry, and the ways we can collaborate as a Franciscan family to better respond to the migration crisis in the United States.

Fr. Tomas Gonzalez

Fray Tomás Gonzalez Cástillo speaks about his ministry to migrants at La72 in Tenosique, Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Christian)

The group exercises revealed the existing efforts many of us were already engaged in, yet also revealed the importance of “developing a new methodology for addressing a new problem.” Ramón Razón, OFM said, “I have seen that many of our undocumented brothers and sisters possess the ability to identify and organize resources critical to their success in crafting lasting solutions to the issues they confront. I feel that our role as friars is to offer them a safe and supportive space where they can exercise that leadership because such spaces are constantly threatened by government action and prejudiced laws.”

The diversity of the conference participants revealed a hope that one day, the Franciscan family will be able to coalesce into a cohesive, powerful force in advocating for the rights our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters. Moreover, the presence and role in organizing this conference of immigrant and refugee religious and social justice advocates — including Julian, Ramon, Abel Garcia, OFM, and myself — showed that the issue of migration is one that touches the heart of the friars of Holy Name Province. Franciscan Common Ground revealed the importance of empowerment and the role that immigrants can play in their own liberation and in social transformation.

Fray Tomás said that the Franciscan cord, the logo of the conference, is a cord of dignity and hope. I would also say that it is a cord of justice. I pray that this conference was just the beginning of a much longer dialogue on how the Franciscan family can collaborate and mobilize our resources in order to address the plight of our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters, as well as the many economic, political, and social factors affecting global migration.

Br. Christian is a post-novitiate friar living at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md.

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