“Stories,” said Madeleine L’Engle, beloved author of “A Wrinkle in Time,” “make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”
In February, I went to a meeting with about 50 priests, sisters and laypeople from all over the Camden Diocese who work with immigrant communities in their parishes.
I sat there and listened to story after heart-wrenching story.
I heard stories about parishioners who had come to South Jersey from all over the world — Southeast Asia, the Middle East, a dozen Latin American countries — seeking a better life for their families. I heard about families being torn apart through deportation, with fathers being taken from their wives and children. I heard about unscrupulous immigration attorneys demanding tens of thousands of dollars from clients and then disappearing. I heard about young adults unable to help with their parish youth group because they are afraid that if they get finger-printed — a usually simple precondition for any work with children — authorities will learn that their parents brought them to the United States without documentation.
These stories ignited a sense of urgency in the room: we realized that across the diocese, we are watching the God-given dignity of our sisters and brothers undermined by an unjust immigration system. We need the stories of struggling families to turn us into a church that is more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.
Now is the time to do something. Our elected leaders in Washington have taken up immigration reform and, as a church, we need to make our voices heard.
Following the lead of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has been a passionate advocate for immigration reform for years, the Diocese of Camden is excited to announce a series of events meant to lift up immigrant families and act for immigration reform.
First, Bishop Dennis Sullivan will celebrate a bilingual Mass for immigrant families on Friday, May 3, at 7:30 p.m. at Divine Mercy Parish in Vineland (23 West Chestnut Ave., Vineland). All are invited to come and pray for immigrant families and fair immigration reform. Care for migrants is something very close to Bishop Sullivan’s heart — he is fluent in Spanish, conversational in Mandarin, and has spent much of his priesthood caring for immigrant communities in New York City.
Second, parishes in the diocese will observe “Justice for Immigrants Sunday” on May 4 and 5. Prayers for immigration reform will be offered during Mass, and you’ll be able to participate in a USCCB postcard campaign calling on our elected leaders to enact fair immigration reform. The bishops are urging Congress to pass reform that:
— Provides a path to citizenship for undocumented persons in the country;
— Preserves family unity as a corner-stone of our national immigration system;
— Provides legal paths for low-skilled immigrant workers to come and work in the United States;
— Restores due process protections to our immigration enforcement policies; and
— Addresses the root causes (push factors) of migration, such as persecution and economic disparity.
Third, inspired by the immigration stories shared at that meeting in February, we will be publishing a series of articles in these pages and on the Life & Justice blog (http://camdenlifejustice.wordpress.com) in the coming weeks — opportunities for some of our Catholic, immigrant sisters and brothers here in South Jersey to share their stories with us.
As we reflect on our call to stand with immigrants, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia offers some empowering words. “We become what we do, for good or for evil,” Archbishop Chaput wrote recently. “If we act and speak like bigots, that’s what we become. If we act with justice, intelligence, common sense and mercy, then we become something quite different. We become the people and the nation God intended us to be.
“Our country’s chronic immigration crisis is a test of our humanity. Whether we pass that test is entirely up to us. That’s why the Catholic community needs to engage the issue of immigration reform as prudently and unselfishly as possible — not tomorrow or next week, but now. The future of our country depends on it.”
Mike Jordan Laskey (firstname.lastname@example.org) is director of Life and Justice Ministries, Diocese of Camden.