Local church leaders attend workshop on immigration reform


Photo by James A. McBride

immigrationworkshop-webParticipants discuss immigration reform during a workshop held at the former St. Pius X Spiritual Life Center, Blackwood, on Feb. 6.

BLACKWOOD – A Filipino family separated by deportation after almost 20 years in the United States. A family forced out of their home in the early mornings and sent back to Mexico. A woman deported back to Palestine.
These were the stories religious and parish workers shared with each other on the afternoon of Feb. 6 here at the former St. Pius X Spiritual Life Center, in talking about the plight of the immigrant faithful in South Jersey. The workshop on Comprehensive Immigration Reform was sponsored by St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral in Camden.
There are approximately 12 to 20 million undocumented workers presently in the United States, who have come from Mexico and other countries looking for a better life.
The workshop was an opportunity for parish leaders to know and acknowledge the immigrants they serve, and discern how to work in collaboration with leaders across the region and state, for comprehensive immigration reform. As Jesus calls us to “welcome the stranger among us,” Catholics must better provide assistance and care to immigrants and refugees seemed to be a theme of the day.
“We need to make sure that the Catholic voice is heard throughout the state and nation,” said Sister Veronica Roche, pastoral associate at St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral.
The 30-40 people in attendance, coming from all over the Camden Diocese, have “a great passion to pursue immigration reform,” said Msgr. Robert McDermott, St. Joseph Pro Cathedral pastor, in his remarks to those gathered.
Joseph Fleming, executive director of PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing) New Jersey, which aims to help communities face issues such as immigration, affordable housing, and health care, was the main speaker. He helped participants work out ways to help immigrants, such as providing resources in the parish, reaching out to state civil leaders, and helping immigrants receive effective legal representation.
Another meeting is scheduled next month at the same location.
“This is a reality, that I experience everyday in my community,” said Father Rene Canales, from St. Gabriel the Archangel in Carneys Point and St. Clare of Assisi in Gibbstown.
“I see the heartache and pain” of the faithful, he said, who constantly worry about being sent back to their home country.
Sister Claire McNichol, SSJ, pastoral associate of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Collingswood, works with a social justice group in her parish, and was excited to bring what she learned from the workshop back to her people.
“We’re hoping that we can make parishioners aware of this issue, and how important it is for the Catholic community to be involved,” she said.