Friars, Partners-in-Ministry from Five States Participate in Ecumenical Advocacy Days

Stephen DeWitt, OFM Friar News

WASHINGTON — Last week, I joined fellow HNP friars, partners-in-ministry and hundreds of other Christian social activists for Ecumenical Advocacy Days, which focused on the need for comprehensive immigration reform and its connection with the Christian tradition. It was a fantastic weekend of learning and sharing that culminated in Sunday’s March for America on the National Mall.

The Province was also represented at the March 19 to 22 event by Louis Canino, OFM, of Stoneville, N.C.; Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, of Silver Spring, Md.;Christopher VanHaight, OFM, of Paterson, N.J.; and Jud Weiksnar, OFM, of Camden, N.J., with parishioners, Secular Franciscans and Franciscan Volunteer Ministers from New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas.

Focus on Immigration
The conference, with its theme “A Place to Call Home: Immigration, Migration & Displaced Persons,” began on Friday night with a moving worship service with music from the St. Camillus Multicultural Choir of Silver Spring. During the service, two U.S. immigrants spoke of their experiences facing discrimination, deportation and separation from their families.

Bishop Minerva Carcaño, of the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church, preached a sermon on how sin splits us apart as a people and how we have forgotten the kingdom of God. “This kingdom calls us to a world where the stranger is always welcome and the divisions of sin no longer keep us apart,” Bishop Carcaño said.

Saturday was filled with talks and workshops dealing with the root causes of immigration reform, how to respond to a stranger in our midst, peacemaking in a time of terrorism, and many, many other pertinent topics. For Catholics, the day ended with Eucharist presided over by Fr. Larry Janezic, OFM, of Sacred Heart Province, interim director of the Franciscan Action Network. Volunteer musicians and choir members were led by Julianne Wallace, an FVM serving in Wilmington, Del.

March for America
Sunday’s talks and workshops focused on comprehensive immigration reform. In the afternoon, EAD participants joined more than 200,000 others for the March for America in support of immigration reform legislation.

Speakers at the rally were a diverse group that included TV journalist Geraldo Rivera, Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles and several key members of Congress. All spoke about the vital role immigrants — both documented and undocumented — play in our society and the need to move toward more sensible immigration policies.

After the rally, we returned to the conference for a closing keynote speech by anti-death penalty activist Sr. Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking. Sr. Helen spoke of the need to hear and respond to the cry of the poor in our midst. She said we need to move from the polarizing tendencies of our society to a “kingdom way” of seeing where we know, “The more I have, the more you have — and not less.”

EAD participants met with congressional representatives the following day to lobby for effective and fair immigration reform.

The Ecumenical Advocacy Days were a wonderful way to come together with other activists committed to bringing about the Kingdom of God here on earth. The opportunity to learn and share was both rewarding and informative. I hope the energy generated this weekend will help move our government toward necessary changes in immigration law and policy.

— Br. Stephen DeWitt is a student friar and resident of Holy Name College in Silver Spring. His blog, “A Franciscan Abroad,” provides a Franciscan perspective on issues of religion, politics and social justice, including immigration reform.