Panel discussion explores immigration and faith

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CHERRY HILL — On Thursday, Sept. 23, a crowd of 100 people gathered at Holy Eucharist Parish here for “Where Does Your Faith Lead You,” an evening to discuss comprehensive immigration reform. The event was organized by the parish social justice ministry, supported by the Diocesan Life and Justice Department.

Three panelists — Mariann Gettings, studying at Neumann University in “Interdisciplinary Studies: Immigration Reform,” as part of the Camden Diocese Lay Ministry Formation Program; Claire Dale, from Christ Our Light Parish, Cherry Hill; and Sister Catherine Darcy, vice chancellor, Diocese of Camden — discussed different aspects of the immigration debate.

Bishop Joseph A. Galante spoke before the panelists, decrying U.S. policy which restricts the rights of immigrants.

“We should be followers of Jesus who firmly believe in the dignity of every human being, and open our hearts and minds to the sisters and brothers who come to us, who look different, talk different, with pleading eyes,” he said.

He referenced the Statue of Liberty, where “the dream of the United States is enshrined” at its base, with the words, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these — the homeless, tempest-tossed — to me; I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door.”

Bishop Galante noted that at the southern border of the United States “there is no statue, but a wall. What kind of message are we putting out? We’re saying that ‘We have a dream, but it’s only for people in America.’”

According to the speakers, the current immigration system in the United States is broken, failing to protect the human rights and dignity of immigrants, who are usually separated from their families and taken advantage of by American employers.

Coming to the United States from countries where they might have been oppressed and wanting a better life for their families, immigrants want the freedom to practice their religion and “the freedom to educate their children. They come to the U.S. to raise money for their families back home, and hopefully bring them to the U.S. someday,” said Mariann Gettings.

The panel addressed the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s policy recommendations on comprehensive immigration reform, which call for a path to citizenship for immigrants; a new worker program, with protection of labor rights, and an option to earn legal permanent residency; reduced waiting times for family reunification; a restoration of due process, for the undocumented; and policies to be established, to address root causes of immigration.

During her presentation, Gettings quoted Msgr. Robert McDermott, pastor of St. Joseph’s Pro-Cathedral, which serves numerous ethnic groups. “This is about the kingdom of God, not borders. We must share, welcome, and love.”

Larry DiPaul, director of the Office of Life and Justice, served as moderator and facilitator of the panel discussion.

The public is invited to Holy Eucharist Parish on Thursday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m., to view a film on immigration and to hear first-hand, some of the life stories of documented and undocumented individuals.