NEW YORK – Close to 50 Franciscan-hearted people gathered on May 19 at Holy Name Province’s San Damiano Hall to learn about migration and to share stories of challenges and of hope. At the Franciscan Common Ground conference, they also heard announced a campaign called “Stand Up, Immigrants: Build the Network of Information, Support and Protection of Immigrants” – to support and protect immigrants.
The event – planned by the Migrant Center of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi and affiliated organizations – gathered members of the Franciscan family and their partners-in-ministry for dialogue to form a collective call to action.
After recognizing the increased fear and uncertainly felt by immigrants since the 2016 presidential election, the need to organize, to protect and to empower gave birth to the campaign.
“Our aim is to protect the rights and welfare of immigrants, especially the undocumented,” said Julian Jagudilla, OFM, director of the Migrant Center. “We want to build a network. It is an absolute must that accurate and responsible information and education be made available and that necessary means be provided to ensure that immigrants feel supported.”
Focusing on Franciscan Message of Inclusion
Fr. David Couturier, OFM Cap., executive director of the Franciscan Institute at St. Bonaventure University in Western New York, gave the keynote presentation. Titled “Finding a Franciscan Voice to Migration,” he spoke about “Migration, Childhood and Trump’s Metaphors of Disenchantment: A Franciscan Critical Discourse Analysis,” describing the far-reaching impact of President Donald Trump’s language. The president’s negative messages harm all listeners, said Fr. David, especially children who hear them during a phase of life that is anxious.
“We make sense of our social world through the use of everyday metaphors,” said the friar, who holds degrees in clinical psychology, pastoral counseling and the psychology of organizational development and who has served the Capuchin Order in Rome as associate director of Justice, Peace and Care for Creation. “What people hear makes a strong impression on their attitudes and on their dignity.”
“We have returned to a highly divided and racist discourse,” added Fr. David. “There is subtle racism behind our migrant myths.”
He described the importance of modifying language – what he calls metaphors – in order to increase the positive nature of conversation and also to be inclusive. He recommends replacing the metaphors used by the Trump Administration with messages that are Franciscan.
“We, like St. Francis in his time, need to let go of the disgust that we have for diversity and difference,” said Fr. David. “It is time to let go of our ideals for a monochromatic America.”
A recent study of Trump’s speeches and tweets showed a large number of demeaning phrases, according to Fr. David. That study, titled “The President’s Intent: Preliminary Findings of a Critical Discourse Analysis of Trump’s Speeches and Tweets From the Date of His Candidacy to mid-September 2017,” is available online.
“St. Francis created metaphors of inclusion, goodness and beauty to replace the prevailing myth of danger, disease and criminality that he had inherited,” said Fr. David, pointing out that the Franciscan myth is radically inclusive. “It seeks a social and ethical space for every man, woman and child to reach their highest potential.”
Five other presenters spoke at last month’s event, which began with a welcome from Andrew Reitz, OFM, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish on West 31st Street. They represented a variety of groups focused on justice, including Franciscans International, International Migrants Alliance, and the Legal Aid Society.
The Franciscans’ message has been consistent for many decades. Nearly 40 years ago — in 1979 – the General Minister of the Order of Friars Minor, Fr. John Vaughn, OFM, spoke of the importance to give voice to the voiceless. “He talked about migrants and the need for friars to help the marginalized,” said Julian.
Supporting and Empowering
“The conference was a good way to share ideas and bring together people committed to honoring the dignity of all people, in particular immigrants,” said Katie Sullivan, director of Holy Name Province’s Franciscan Volunteer Ministry who traveled to New York from Philadelphia. “At my table, we had people from the United States and from Ecuador. I greatly value their openness and trust in sharing their personal stories of pain, challenge, and hope.”
The daylong event – the second Franciscan Common Ground held by the Migrant Center since its establishment in 2013 – concluded with a discussion about how to best take information to local communities.
Russ Testa, director of the HNP Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, said, “Our immigrant brothers and sisters, both those in the U.S. with legal status and those without, are under a growing threat to a humane life. One of the best ways to support them is by helping them know their legal rights and then standing in solidarity with them to preserve those very same rights. Many HNP ministries have sponsored or are preparing to host ‘Know Your Rights’ training workshops.”
“We are continuously trying to collaborate with each other,” said Julian. “Hope for immigrants begins with knowing their rights and organizing themselves. It is our hope to reach out, organize and empower immigrants through the network in the tristate area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.”
The network of information, support and protection will include several components:
- Small clusters of protection (for which training materials are available)
- Centers of information and support (serving as hubs of information and resources)
- Support congregations (churches and synagogues that serve as support structure to the centers)
- Coordinating body (the command center that organizes and trains the network)
“Our challenge is to get people out of harm’s way,” said Hasan Shafiqullah of the Legal Aid Society.
Details about the initiative can be obtained through standupimmigrats.org and by calling the Migrant Center at 212-736-8500 ext. 377. Information about other programs offered by the Migrant Center can be found on its website and on the Franciscan Common Ground Facebook page.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.
Editor’s note: Resources about immigration can be found in the Justice and Peace section of HNP.org.
- “Three HNP Friars Attend OFM JPIC Course on Migration” – May 1, 2018, HNP Today
- “Franciscans Stand with Immigrant Brothers and Sisters” – May 24, 2017, HNP Today
- “US Franciscans Speak Out Against Immigration Ban” – Feb. 1, 2017, HNP Today
- “Pursuit of Life, Liberty at Heart of Migration Issue” by Julian Jagudilla, OFM – June 17, 2016, HNP Today
- “NYC Migrant Center Celebrates Three-Year Anniversary” – Dec. 14, 2016, HNP Today