North Carolina Prayer Center Hosts Immigration Workshops

Cosmas Robless In the Headlines

To encourage sharing of attitudes, experiences and Catholic social teaching, the Province’s director of justice, peace and integrity of creation led two workshops in July at St. Francis Springs Prayer Center. Louis Canino, OFM, director of the center, suggested that a summary of the program be shared with the Province. Franciscans around the country are taking a variety of actions to raise awareness about the need for immigration reform. According to an Aug. 17 communication from the Franciscan Action Network, people are praying, fasting and advocating with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Justice for Immigrants.

STONEVILLE, N.C. — Two immigration workshops were held on July 10 and 11 at St Francis Springs Prayer Center under the sponsorship of the center’s Institute of Justice and Peace. The first was the second in a series of one-day workshops following the Justice and Peace Weekend Experiences of 2008 and 2009; the second was organized specifically for the Secular Franciscans of Greensboro and neighboring fraternities.

The workshops drew some 80 participants and were facilitated by Russ Testa, director of the Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation for Holy Name Province and director of Programs, Policy and organizing for theFranciscan Action Network.

In light of the loud and heated ongoing discussion in the country on immigration, the objectives of the workshops were to have participants share individual life experiences and attitudes on immigration; examine their positions on immigration against the body of the Franciscan tradition and Catholic social teaching; and explore how civil dialogue is to be promoted and conducted.

The workshops were planned and managed to provide a safe environment for free but civil dialogue; stressing dialogue, not debate. They included presentations balanced with small and large-group discussion including simulated role-playing within a framework of public prayer and private reflection.

The discussions yielded several insights, points of learning and operational recommendations for follow-up. Three were:

• Churches should do a better job of motivating and engaging the faithful to get involved on immigration matters. There is a sense that the “faith traditions by and large are falling on the job” in this regard. Notwithstanding the work of bodies like the USCCB, Justice for Immigrants and FAN, more needs to be done actively to promote conversation, education and action at the local parish level. 

• Churches should be encouraged and assisted where necessary to set up “safe places” in local parishes for conversation on immigration issues and immigrant integration with emphasis on civil discourse, dialogue (not debate) and intergenerational involvement. 

• The Principles for Immigration Policy of the U.S. Bishops should be expanded consistent with praxis to include due attention at all levels of the Church to Immigrant Integration and the security and economic concerns of receiving communities.

imm-r1The acclamations at the end of each workshop for Russ Testa reflected the deep appreciation of participants for the opportunity to learn, reflect and dialogue on the human and moral issues underlying immigration policy and enforcement today. The workshops went a good way toward illustrating the power of civil dialogue in prayer, moving more of the faithful to agree with, advocate and act for immigration reform that is compassionate, comprehensive, just and geared to the common good.

— Cosmas Robless is a volunteer at St. Francis Springs Prayer Center.