FALLS CHURCH, Va. (CNS) — As Catholics in more than 150 cities rallied and prayed for Congress to restructure the country’s immigration laws, parishioners at a northern Virginia parish asked God to “grant the miracle of reform” at a bilingual prayer vigil.
Members and guests of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Falls Church Oct. 6 heard Father Ismael A. Comayagua say that God “won’t ask us for our documents but for our good deeds.”
“We want to tell those who feel helpless that we are one family under God,” Father Comayagua, who is the parish’s representative to the Hispanic community, said in Spanish.
The rallies and prayer services Oct. 5, and in the days following, included many events at Catholic parishes and involving priests and bishops. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been among the institutions pushing Congress to adopt comprehensive immigration reform that reflects Catholic social teaching.
Father Stephen McGraw, parish administrator, told participants that supporting immigrants, regardless of their legal status, comes naturally when people see Christ in their suffering.
“When we reach out to them and do justice to them, we are serving no other than Jesus Christ himself,” Father McGraw said. “These persons are coming seeking the livelihood and the security they can’t find (in their country).”
Prayers also were offered for families affected by the federal government shutdown that began Oct. 1. Attendees asked God to inspire people in the community to give voice to voiceless people and to be courageous in contacting congressional leaders in an effort to avoid a “globalization of indifference.”
“What better way to advocate for our community than through prayer,” said Lia Salinas, the parish’s director of religious education. “The idea of the vigil is to be united.”
Father McGraw said parishioners especially are called to help immigrants as they would help anyone in need. He encouraged Catholics to educate those who criticize immigrants for being in the country illegally.
“It shows their ignorance of a reality that is not easy,” the priest said. “But we can educate people. Without judging their motives, we can tell them that (most immigrants) are law-abiding, peace-loving people just like most North Americans are.”
Cindy Amador, director of the parish youth dance ministry, described her struggles after she came to the U.S. as a young girl in 2004.
“Things were very hard. I would take public transportation and have to wait until very late in the evening to be picked up. After high school, I enrolled in a community college and paid out-of-state tuition to get my associate’s degree in psychology, which was a lot more than normal students paid,” Amador said.
Since 2012, Amador has held temporary legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy of the Department of Homeland Security. The policy allows immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday and fulfill specific requirements to remain in the country for two-years on a renewable basis. She said the policy allowed her to obtain things that natural-born citizens take for granted, such as a driver’s license, a job and the opportunity to go to college.
“My dream is to become a child psychologist and be able to apply my Christian Catholic faith to help all those children who are suffering,” Amador said. “As an immigrant, I think I have a lot to contribute to this country.”
Parishioner Fred Day, a lawyer who counsels immigrants, invited participants to “take a tangible step” toward helping the millions of people living in fear of deportation by asking Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Many parishioners filled out postcards as part of the USCCB campaign.
The cards lay out the bishops’ immigration stance and ask legislators to consider a just and compassionate reform that includes a path to citizenship, a way to reunite families, a plan for future workers, the restoration of due process for immigrants held in custody and a way to address the root causes of migration.
In Rhode Island, Hispanic Catholics from across the Greater Providence area walked, took a car or rode on a bus to converge on Cathedral Square Oct. 7, to join in a candlelit prayer service for immigration reform.
The crowd gathered in front of the chancery of the Providence Diocese were undaunted by rain showers, Umbrellas sprouted from the group as young and old prayed and sang for immigration reform.
“We came down because we are happy to support immigration reform,” said Jeffrey Acosta, 14, a student at La Salle Academy, who with his brother, Jorge Acosta, 15, who also attends La Salle, were part of a musical group that accompanied the youth choir from St. Edward Church, Providence, at the service.
“Both our parents are immigrants. If they didn’t come here we wouldn’t have the opportunities that we have,” said Jeffrey.
Jorge said later, “Our parents came here and now we have the opportunity to go to a good school and have a chance to build good lives in America.”
The Office of Community Services and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Providence sponsored the event.
Msgr. Albert A. Kenney, diocesan vicar general and moderator of the curia, welcomed the pilgrims to the service, noting that 11 million immigrants in America are awaiting a path to citizenship. Some 250 attended the service, joining a nationwide effort that saw similar rallies and prayer services in more than 150 other cities over the weekend.
A podium in front of the chancery was flanked by the statue of Mary, Our Lady of Providence, and an American flag. Five people led those gathered in praying the five decades of the rosary. Three led the prayers in Spanish, one in French and one in Portuguese.
Damari Recillas, 10, an altar server at St. Edward Church, recognized the significance of the event. “We prayed to the Lord to thank him for giving us so many good things,” she said.
Father Jaime Garcia, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Providence, joined his parishioners at the prayer service and remembered his experience when he emigrated from Guatemala.
“I know about the need for prayer for immigration reform more than anyone, and the importance of support from the bishop and the staff here,” he told the Rhode Island Catholic, the diocesan newspaper. “When I came here 27 years ago, I found my vocation and I found support from the church as a priest and as a human person.”
Negro is on the staff of the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington, Va. Contributing to this story was Joseph R. LaPlante, a correspondent for the Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Providence, R.I.