Update on Immigration Reform

Russ Testa Features

This week saw the next step in the efforts to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. Several of the ministries of the Holy Name Province participated in prayer and rallies on May 1, appropriately, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.

Here are a few of the ways that friars and ministries of Holy Name Province participated:

Tom Vigliotta (University of Georgia Catholic Center):

“Near the University of Georgia, there is a trailer park where many Mexicans live. It is called Oasis Catolica. Sr. Marguarita is the leader of this community. We here at the Catholic Center have been advocates in seeking immigration reform that is rooted in Catholic faith and justice for our Hispanic sisters and brothers here in Athens, Ga.

“On the feast of St Joseph the Worker, we pondered Joseph as more than a man who worked as a carpenter. In my homily, we pondered Joseph the good and righteous man who also worked to see the hand of God in all of our lives. We say grace before meals, but we acknowledge that someone worked hard to make these meals possible for us.

“We give thanks for the food we eat, but also acknowledge the worker who gets up at 5 a.m. to prepare the meal at the University Cafeteria.

“We give thanks for the food we eat, but we also give thanks for the truck driver who brings the food we eat to the local supermarket.

“And we give thanks for food we eat, but we also give thanks for the persons in the supermarket who stock the shelves, who check us out and who carry our bags to the car.

“And we give thanks for the food we eat, but we also give thanks to the farmers and the people who harvest the crops from the fields, many of them Mexicans.

“We give thanks for the food we eat, but also for the imperishable food of Jesus who helps us to seek and find the interconnectedness of all people so that we can live in harmony.

“This is the miracle of the loaves and fish. It is not just a multiplication of food that Jesus offered but of multiplication of sharing our goods and lives with each other. Anything less is a mob. We seek through our faith in Jesus to live in a communion of love.”

Jud Weiksnar (Camden, N.J.):

“In Camden we did not officially endorse a boycott, leaving it up to our parishioners’ discretion. However, we did gather in the church at night for prayers supporting justice for immigrants. Several bodegas, shops and restaurants in our neighborhood were shut down, and some of our parishioners did participate in a march from Camden across the river to Philadelphia.”

Jacek Orzechowski (Durham, N.C.):

“I participated in a rally for the immigration reform in Greensboro. I opened up with a prayer and spoke briefly about how the Catholic Church, including our local bishop and friars of HNP, are supporting the immigrants in their struggle.

“The event took place in front of the Municipal Building. It drew big crowds of Latinos dressed in white with a lot of American flags and signs in English that spoke about the Latino economic contributions.”

Larry Hayes (Silver Spring, Md.):

“I offered the opening prayer, and a brief reflection on ‘welcoming the stranger’ in the Scriptures at a local immigration rally sponsored by CASA of Maryland (a community organizing and outreach for immigrants) in Hyattsville.”

In the exuberance of rallies, prayer and political action, many people have mixed opinions and concerns about the current situation of immigration in the U.S. In recent polls, a significant number of U.S. citizens have shown a level of alarm at the prospect of 11-12 million undocumented citizens joining the U.S. citizenry.

As ministers, we must approach this fear with the pastoral sensibility that it requires. Some of the fear is based on erroneous information or “popular myths” regarding immigrants. Some of it arises out of a sense of law and order in that undocumented persons “broke the law.” Some of it comes from reflection upon the significant challenges that exist in fixing the current broken system. Offering a pathway to citizenship for 11-12 million people will take significant government and social action. And most sadly, some of it is born of imbedded U.S. cultural strains of isolation and xenophobia that arise from time to time in our U.S. history.

Regardless of the source, we must respect the fear and give it a place to be expressed and then discussed. (Many of our ministries have and continue to do this around the war in Iraq.) Franciscans posses a particular gift for conflict resolution and bridge-building that is inherited from the tradition.

One of the best things we might want to consider in each of our ministries is creating a time for open and honest discussion regarding the current situation of immigration taking place. Doing this in the context of prayer will allow us to be more aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence with us.

It is not too late in the process of immigration reform to have a public discussion, but it can be intimidating to think of leading one of these. There are great resources to help in this at the U.S. Bishops’ Web site Justice for Immigrants (www.justiceforimmigrants.org). In addition, below please find a link to a series of questions and responses put out by the Diocese of Orlando, Fla.

Both the materials from the U.S. bishops and the Diocese of Orlando can provide facilitators of the discussion enough background to feel comfortable in that role. If you want to discuss this option further, please do not hesitate to contact Russ Testa at (202) 541-5245 or testa@wtu.edu.

In the meantime, we can all pray for our elected officials that they might have the wisdom, insight and courage to fix the current broken situation.