WASHINGTON (CNS) — About 80 people quietly holding placards that read “Love Thy Neighbor” gathered at Lafayette Park across from the White House in springlike weather Feb. 19 to send a message to President Donald Trump in the wake of his executive actions on immigration and border security.
Participants gathered near the park’s statue of President Andrew Jackson for the vigil sponsored by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.
“We’re hearing stories of families preparing for the worst,” Christopher Hale, the organization’s executive director, told Catholic News Service. “We’ve also heard from priests who are afraid their parishes will be split in two.”
The vigil took place two days before Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly issued memorandums with guidelines for enforcing immigration law. Under the guidance, federal law enforcement authorities can more aggressively detain both unauthorized immigrants and legal immigrants with criminal records; increase the group of immigrants that would be a priority for deportation; and reduce the number of migrants’ claims for asylum.
Nothing in Kelly’s guidance discussed deporting beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.
Following a half-hour of praying the rosary at Lafayette Park, vigil participants heard a short homily from Carmelite Father Mark Zittle, assistant director of campus ministry for faith at Fordham University. Afterward, all proceeded to a 5:30 p.m. Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral a few blocks away.
Father Zittle reminded the group that their public worship was “a sign of the universal benefit to all. Not for a few. Not for some. Not for many. But for all.”
“It is essential for us to remember and to tell the world that salvation history is a story of migration. And to close the door on migration is to close the door on salvation history,” he said.
The priest quoted St. John Paul II: “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors to Christ.”
“There is a temptation to let our frustration give way to bitterness, and bitterness give way to anger. For our spirits to grow harsh,” he continued.
These, Father Zittle added, “are all natural responses to injustice. To real human suffering. But however justifiable … it is essential that we not allow our spirits to grow hard. By virtue of our baptism, Christians are called to participate in the prophetic ministry of Jesus Christ. It proclaims God’s mercy, God’s love, God’s justice, and God’s desire for the salvation of all people. And to do it with great joy in our hearts.”
The vigil was the second such event held by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. On Jan. 29, more than 600 attended an outdoor Mass in bitter cold that the group had organized to protest Trump’s ban on allowing in to the country immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. That executive order has been put on hold as it faces several court fights.
Organizing such events through social media with no more than 24 hours’ notice may result in highly uneven turnouts, Hale told CNS. But he is thinking of more frequent events for the prominent location near the White House.
Hale has obtained funding and National Park Service permits to allow the vigils every Sunday through Memorial Day.
“You know what the kids say, don’t you?” he asked, smiling. “We’re finally ‘woke.'”