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A Multicultural Evening of Prayer in Solidarity with Immigrants, Refugees and Pope Francis

St. Camillus

Nearly 300 people attended a multicultural evening of prayer and reflection at St. Camillus Church last week. (Photo courtesy of Christian Seno)

SILVER SPRING, Md. — On Feb. 17, the student friars of Holy Name College held a multicultural evening of prayer and reflection on issues facing immigrants and refugees. Titled “Praying with Pope Francis: A Multicultural Evening of Reflection and Prayer for Immigrants and Refugees,” this prayer service resulted from my attendance at a Justice for Immigrants planning meeting at the USCCB with Holy Name Province’s JPIC director, Russell Testa.

After learning of the enforcement actions and deportations that unjustly targeted families and individuals in the Latino community, Russ and I were inspired to organize an event that would make a statement of solidarity with Pope Francis, as well as with our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters here in Silver Spring. We proposed to hold a prayer service at the same time as Pope Francis’ historic Mass at the border during his trip to Cidudad Juárez in Mexico.

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Dennis Bennett, foreground, and Abel Garcia, background, with members of the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry stationed at St. Camillus Church. (Photo courtesy of Christian)

This was a truly collaborative effort among all of the simply professed friars at Holy Name College and the communities from St. Camillus and Langley Park. Javier del Angel, OFM, collaborated with the Latino choir from St. Camillus to put together a riveting multi-lingual music program. Abel Garcia, OFM, partnered with community leaders from St. Camillus and nearby Langley Park to promote the event among the Latino community. Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, assisted with the logistics at St. Camillus, while David Schlatter, OFM, generously offered to coordinate hospitality. During the event, Abraham Joseph, OFM, opened with a prayer read in French while Casey Cole, OFM, and Dennis Bennett, OFM, proclaimed readings in English and Spanish, respectively.

Wednesday’s prayer service consisted of readings from Scripture and Pope Francis, as well as music, and witness talks from two community leaders. These powerful and moving reflections demonstrated the many difficulties and challenges facing our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters. To preserve a multicultural atmosphere, the readings were proclaimed in French, Spanish, and English, with the translations projected on a screen behind the altar.

Nearly 300 people attended the prayer service and I was impressed by the great devotion and enthusiasm shown during this event. For me however, the most important aspect of our statement of prayer and solidarity was the decision to open the doors of Holy Name College to the entire community. After the hour and a half long prayer service, the student friars invited our brothers and sisters to the refectory at Holy Name College for some refreshments and conversation on these important issues. Nearly 200 people packed into the refectory.

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Guests mingle at Holy Name College following the prayer service. (Photo courtesy of Christian)

I was moved by how appreciative everybody was to be invited to the friary. I realized that this small act of hospitality and openness appealed to a deep-seated need within the larger community for solidarity and fraternity with the friars. At a time of great fear and xenophobia, as well as divisive language from politicians and media, this simple gesture echoed Pope Francis’ call to build bridges and to foster a culture of encounter.

“It was really a great opportunity to invite people and to tell them that they are part of our lives, that we are a part of their community, and to share this moment with them,” said Abel.  I hope that this shared moment will inspire those of us in formation to continue to open our doors, to share our lives, and to truly encounter our brothers and sisters.

Br. Christian, a native of the Philippines, is a student friar at Holy Name College and an intern in the HNP Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation.

Editor’s note: In correspondence sent to the event’s organizers on Feb. 17, Russ Testa praised the friars of Holy Name College for their efforts. “I believe this event can be a great learning moment for so many of us. It highlights that so many in the Church and wider world are longing to know that they are supported by the Church and people as they face exclusion in our system of immigration. … This may not seem like much, but it can be of immeasurable importance to get through another day under the shadow of our broken immigration system.”

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