Catholics focus on migrant children with rally, civil disobedience at U.S. Capitol

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Joseph Fleming, a parishioner from Saint Teresa of Calcutta Parish, Collingswood, and co-organizer of the Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children, is arrested by Capitol Police for protesting the death of immigrant children held in detention.

Hundreds of activists, including some local Catholics, made their voices heard outside the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. to protest the U.S. government’s current immigration policy and practices.

The “Catholic Day of Action” on July 18 was set up by the national organizations Faith in Action and Faith in Public Life to urge politicians to stop the “inhumane treatment” of immigrant children at the border and persuade people of faith to take a stronger stand against current U.S. border policies.

Among the protestors was Father Gerard Marable, co-pastor of Camden’s Sacred Heart Parish.

“Our task (as Catholics) is to bear witness” and to make known the duty for men and women of faith to stand up and raise their voices for immigrant children and their families, he said, adding that there is “uncertainty” among his own parishioners about how they could be affected by government action. Indeed, his faithful have been “traumatized” by current U.S, policy, Father Marable noted.

He and others at the D.C. rally see such policy, like the government’s detention of immigrant children, as pro-life issues that Catholics must speak up against.

“It’s time for people of faith and goodwill to say ‘no’” to the U.S. administration’s “harsh policies” and “dehumanizing language” toward immigrants, said Joseph Fleming, director of Catholic Organizing for Faith in Action and a parishioner at Collingswood’s Saint Teresa of Calcutta Parish.

It has been such government action, including the detention of migrant children at the U.S./Mexico border, that has led to the deaths of seven such youth in federal custody in the past nine months, Fleming said.

Faith in Action’s goal, he says, is to mobilize the public, and build a “wave of action” that ultimately leads to the end of detention centers and separation of families.

“We want to create a growing consciousness” of the urgent need for immigration reform, Fleming said.

He was one of 70 arrested for civil disobedience inside the Russell Senate Office Building, and released pending a court date/fine.

Father Marable was happy to be standing with an “excited mix” of young, old, lay and religious beside him. “It was good to be among Catholics in an excited atmosphere to raise our voices and make a public, prophetic noise,” he said.

Many of the speakers at the event were women religious who stressed the need to end the current practice of placing children in detention centers at the border and emphasized that the need to start a new wave of protest against these policies should be viewed as a pro-life stance.

Sister Carol Zinn, a Sister of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia, and executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, told the group: “Catholic sisters have a long history with immigrant communities. We have seen the pain, suffering, fear and trauma firsthand. In recent months, as the humanitarian crisis has escalated, we have joined the tens of thousands who are outraged at the horrific situation at our southern border.”

She pointed out that women religious have been ministering to those in need and donated money to support those seeking safety, freedom, security and a better life for their families. “We are here today because of our faith. The Gospel commands, and the values of our homeland demand, that we act,” she added.

Contributing to this story was Catholic News Service.