Pilgrimage for citizenship

Bishop Sullivan blesses pilgrims on citizenship trek

CAMDEN – Here on the steps of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Nov. 18, Magali Rodriguez told her story, one not unlike the stories of others across the nation.
Born in Mexico, Rodriguez has been in the United States for 20 years, almost her whole life, but she does not have legal residency. She has not seen her grandparents since she left Mexico. She wasn’t there for her grandfather last September, to be with him in his final days before he died.
And, if her own mother goes back to Mexico to be with Magali’s grandmother, as she has vowed, she will most likely be detained if she tries to come back to the United States.
The toll that current immigration law has taken on families is one reason Rodriguez and 20 others have embarked on a nine-day, 150-mile walking pilgrimage through New Jersey, visiting with congressmen to enact comprehensive immigration reform.
Before they left on their journey, Bishop Dennis Sullivan gave them a special blessing during the 12:05 p.m. Mass in the cathedral. “May you be messengers of hope to our immigrant brothers and sisters,” he said.
The U.S. bishops are strong advocates of a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system, and Bishop Sullivan said “the church accompanies the pilgrims in their desire for immigration reform.”
Last week the bishops of New Jersey issued a statement in support of legislation that would allow certain undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities if they meet a set of strict criteria.
The pilgrims who left Camden Nov. 18 represent the 11 million aspiring Americans who “work, live and struggle in the shadows of our communities because of their undocumented immigrant status,” they said.
All are community and faith leaders with the Diocese of Camden and CCOP (Churches Organized for People).
“Two-thirds of (undocumented immigrants) have been in this country for more than a decade. These people are essential to our economy and are the neighbors with whom we live, go to school; and worship,” the pilgrims said in a statement.
“Full citizenship is the only moral response to the current, broken immigration system – which has separated families and devastated communities,” they said.
“We’re people of hope,” said Mike Jordan Laskey, director of Life of Social Justice for the Diocese of Camden, who was walking with the pilgrims to their first stop, the nine-mile walk to Congressman Rob Andrews’ office in Haddon Heights.
Laskey was holding 3,000 postcards to deliver to the congressman’s office, urging him to publicly support a path to citizenship by introducing or co-sponsoring a bill in the House of Representatives.
In addition to visiting Congressman Andrews, the pilgrims are walking to the offices of Congressman Jon Runyan in Mount Laurel, Congressman Chris Smith in Freehold Township, and Congressman Frank Lobiondo in Mays Landing.
“Sadly the only thing that our representatives have done regarding immigration reform this year is to attempt to scale back the protection that many young people need through the Deferred Action Program,” said Msgr. Robert T. McDermott, pastor of St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral in Camden. “People of faith are participating in the ancient ritual of pilgrimage in order to bring our stories of struggle directly to our elected leaders and help them change their hearts to protect aspiring American families.”

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