Franciscans Advocate for Immigration Reform

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

NEW YORK — Hundreds of representatives from Holy Name Province ministries joined in a national demonstration for immigration reform last week. They traveled to Washington D.C., from the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey to be part of the March 21 immigration rally organized by a coalition of faith, labor, community and business groups.

The March for America that took place on the National Mall brought together an estimated crowd of 250,000 calling for comprehensive immigration reform. In a collaborative effort with a local Latino advocacy group, Casa de Maryland, St. Camillus Parish organized 20 busloads of people — more than 900 parishioners — to participate in this massive advocacy action in the nation’s capital, said Jacek Orzechowski, OFM.

National Efforts
Though predominantly Latino, they were joined by some English and French-speaking parishioners, said Jacek, guardian of St. Camillus Friary in Silver Spring, Md.

“Regardless of whether they were undocumented immigrants living in the shadows of our society, legal residents, or U.S. citizens, they were all very happy to be there,” he said. “They felt empowered to continue to witness to the need for a more humane and just immigration system in this country.”

Participants from ministries farther away also participated.

A group from Camden, N.J., joined “thousands of their closest friends” at the March for America rally, said Jud Weiksnar, OFM, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church, who mentioned that the group also lobbied on Capitol Hill. He said, as part of the weekend activities, he also lobbied with Ecumenical Advocacy Days participants, adding that for the first time in his five years of lobbying with EAD, his group was able “to meet with an actual congressman, Rep. Robert Andrews, rather than a staffer.”

As follow-up, the St. Anthony’s group has brought back information on immigration to the Camden Churches Organizing for People community group.

Three buses from St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Triangle, Va., as well as representatives of Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham, N.C., attended the event, said Jud. Also at the rally was Russell Testa, director of the Province’s Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation.

Imm-rSouth Carolina Effort
The week before, representatives from St. Mary of the Angels Parish in Anderson, S.C., visited the office of Senator Lindsey Graham to acknowledge his immigration efforts.

Pastor Aubrey McNeil, OFM, and two parishioners drove to Senator Graham’s office in Pendleton, S.C, outside Anderson, said Tony Soignoli, adding, “Of course, he was carrying out his business in Washington, and could not be with us. However, we did have a nice visit with his staff.”

“We were there to present a letter to the senator, thanking him and his staff for their untiring work on immigration, which — we know — he has taken a great deal of criticism for. We were there on behalf of our JPIC Committee from St Mary of the Angels, our community in South Carolina and, of course, on behalf of the Franciscan Action Network,” said Soignoli. He was given the Province’s Francis Medal in 2007 for the work he does for St. Mary’s.

Shown in the photo above are Norene Smith, a member of the Anderson parish’s JPIC Committee; Aubrey McNeil, chair of the committee; Denise Bauld, the senator’s senior advisor; and Jennifer Sellers, who is in charge of Constituent Services.

In the photo collage behind are several friars at the March 21 rally — Stephen DeWitt, OFM, Jacek and Jud.

 Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.