Raleigh Parish Responds to Immigration Reform

George Corrigan Features

RALEIGH, N.C. – During the months of January and February, the JPIC Ministries here at St. Francis of Assisi Parish held a four-part workshop on the state and status of immigration and its impact nationally and locally. The attendance at the workshops was greater than expected from the beginning and grew each week as word spread. The workshops helped to form a broader understanding of how immigration impacts us as a believing community.

The St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Community, under the leadership of former friar Paul Amrhien, has been active in providing outreach to immigrants in the Triangle area of North Carolina (Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill) through its efforts in Migrant Ministry, Catholic Parish Outreach, Task Force on Central America, Sister Parish-Guatemala, and support of the sacramental ministries at Our Lady of the Rosary, a mission of a neighboring parish. The workshops were intended to expand the parish focus to communal responses in the economic, social, and political arenas, rooted in our understanding of the Gospel and Catholic social teaching.

The “Immigration Forums” brought together a wide range of speakers and experiences from the arenas of church, advocacy, education and politics, as well as the voices of immigrants themselves. The following shows the breadth and scope of the workshops:

  • Immigration: A Global Phenomenon: Speakers, including Rebecca Phares of the Oblate JPIC Office in Washington D.C., and Jason Payne of the Lutheran Family Services Refugee Resettlement project presented the “who, why and how” of immigration.
  • Panel Discussion on the Opportunities & Challenges of Immigration: Panelists included Dr. Noah Pickus, Associate Director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University and author of True Faith and Allegiance, Immigration and American Civic Nationalism, Kieran Shanahan, former Republican City Councilman of Raleigh;and Marisol Jimenez of El Pueblo, Raleigh.
  • Individual Stories of Immigrants: Hear the stories and ask questions of real immigrants from Asia, Africa and Latin America.
  • What Does Catholic Teaching Say About Immigration? Listen to Kevin Appleby, Office of Migration and Refugee Policy, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington D.C., and Sr. Joan Jurski, Office of Peace and Justice, Diocese of Raleigh.

Serendipitously, the Raleigh News and Observer, at the end of February, began a detailed series of five, front page articles on the impact of immigration upon jobs, health care, education, small town life and the economy in general. (The series is available using the link below.) So, as it turns out, our entire parish was exposed to the real impact of immigration across a broad spectrum of concerns and issues.

On the weekend of March 5, the friars of the Raleigh community (Mark Reamer, Bill McConville, Ray Selker andGeorge Corrigan) brought this month-long effort to a capstone by focusing all the homilies during the weekend liturgies on immigration in the context of our parish Lenten themes:

Remember …. who you are
Remember …. who you are called to be
Remember …. the one who calls you
Remember …. and change

The reading that weekend was St. Mark’s account of Jesus in the desert. Using Cardinal Mahoney’s Ash Wednesday remarks as a source, we then linked the idea of “who you are” and “who you are called to be” to arrive at ” a people who are called to make room in their lives” – even if the very ministries we do could be designated as illegal, because of pending legislation such as HR 4437.

All during this period, the parish JPIC ministry has been active in the use of the bulletin and flyers to direct parishioners to the NETWORK immigration Web-site and the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops’ (USCCB) Migration & Refugee Services Web-page. The efforts have focused on having parishioners contact their representative via the CapWiz e-mail system.

Serious work lays ahead of all of our efforts, but perhaps the efforts of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Community in Raleigh can provide some insight into how collaborative efforts can begin to sow the seeds of Gospel living by engaging people of faith in the public square.