By Denise Peterson
Special to The CS&T

PHILADELPHIA – About 90 Catholics from the Philadelphia Archdiocese gathered at Our Lady of Ransom Parish’s gymnasium on Sept. 11 for a leadership meeting on immigration reform. Participants included clergy, religious and lay Catholics from the five counties, as well as representatives from other dioceses in Pennsylvania and Catholic Relief Services.

The idea for the meeting came from a larger event hosted by the United Way, where representatives from all over the Philadelphia area discussed the possibility of immigration reform.

Msgr. Hugh J. Shields, vicar for Hispanic Catholics and one of the organizers of the event, said, “Some of the Catholic representatives got to talking after the United Way event and said ‘We should be doing something within our own community right now,’ to get ready for immigration reform.”

Immigration reform was a hot topic in 2006, when hundreds of thousands of people marched around the country on May Day. Since then, the issue has fallen under the radar politically, as issues such as the financial crisis, health care reform and the war in Afghanistan have been pushed to the forefront.

President Barack Obama has said that immigration reform will come on the heels of health care reform, in late 2009 or early 2010.

Sister Patricia Madden, S.S.J., who works at the Sisters of St. Joseph Welcome Center in North Philadelphia, attended the meeting at Our Lady of Ransom. “I’m glad to see the energy is back,” she said. “A couple of years ago we were going to rallies and all, and then it just died. I can feel that the energy is coming back, that the time is now, and that hope is here. The plight of the immigrant is very important to us. Jesus welcomes everyone – lepers, Samaritans, the woman at the well – so we should too.”

At the meeting participants were given time to discuss how the current immigration system has affected them and the people they serve. Stories of fear, separation, victimization and hope were shared with the larger group.

Another organizer of the event, Tim O’Connell, works with the Delaware County Hispanic Ministry team and has spent time at the U.S.-Mexico border. He reflected on his experiences with brothers and sisters on both sides of the border. “It’s not a matter of if we should change the broken, unjust immigration system,” he said. “It’s that we must change the system. It’s a biblical mandate that we must change it.”

Some of the goals for the night were to let people know that they are not alone in their desire for a more just system, and to make people aware of the resources available to them from the Archdiocese. Organizers hope that the meeting will be a springboard for more discussion about the Catholic response to immigration reform.

For more information on bringing immigration educational resources to your parish, or to get involved with the Church’s effort, contact the Office for Hispanic Catholics at 215-667-2820.

Denise Peterson is a freelance writer and has worked at the Cardinal Bevilacqua Center and the archdiocesan Office for Hispanic Catholics.