The prayer service was the outgrowth of a larger effort under way between the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration and the board of directors of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. In 2004, both organizations resolved to make comprehensive immigration reform, with special emphasis on legalization, a major public policy priority within the Catholic Church. Officials from both groups embarked on a campaign, Catholic Justice for Immigration.
In a symbolic gesture of support, participants presented signed postcards at the prayer service that were later submitted to the offices of Sens. Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl and Reps. Gwen Moore, Paul Ryan and Jim Sensenbrenner. Postcards, had also been collected at Catholic parishes, schools and nonprofit organizations in the preceding weeks. Rob Shelledy, coordinator of the Milwaukee Archdiocese’s social justice ministry, estimated 12,272 postcards were collected.
Moore was at the prayer service and pledged to accept the message on the literature that included a statement that the current U.S. immigration system is flawed and in need of repair so families can stay together and work toward legitimate citizenship. The postcards also called for more humane enforcement practices relevant to immigration laws.
“I ask for your prayers and support so we can claim victory,” Moore said after accepting the postcards. “These are difficult times, but we have the Lord on our side, and we have each other.”
In a statement explaining the rationale for the prayer service and postcard initiative, Shelledy said it was an important opportunity during a very holy time of the year to express the Catholic Church’s stance on serving people as Jesus would.
“When people of faith stand in prayer and solidarity, it makes a very strong witness not only to our community, but to our legislative representatives,” Shelledy said. “Our faith calls us to stand together with immigrant brothers and sisters, and we express our support for the goals of the Catholic Justice for Immigration campaign.”
Speaking at the prayer service, Bishop Sklba likened the call of the church to the story of the Good Samaritan in the Bible. During Lent, Bishop Sklba said, it is the duty of Catholics to have mission-minded ideals while interacting with others.
“(The Good Samaritan) cared for that victim, and we are called to do the same,” Bishop Sklba said. “To be faithful to our God means treating all people with profound respect.”
While noting the importance of laws, Bishop Sklba said hurting those with the greatest needs in our country not only is a disservice to those being deported, but it hurts the lawmakers themselves.
“God looks down on this,” he said.
School Sister of Notre Dame Josephe Marie Flynn shared the story of José, a Mexican native who came with his parents in search of a better life when he was 14. Thirty-five years later, U.S. customs officials required José to return to Mexico. When the incident occurred in 2005, José left behind his wife and his children.
“(He) was dumped in a country he didn’t know,” Sr. Josephee Marie said. “This broke away from simple human rights standards.”
Fr. Joe Lubrano, a priest of the Society of the Divine Savior, shared the story of a a member of his religious community who had to leave because of his non-residency status.
“We tried every way we could to help our brother stay in the U.S.” Fr. Lubrano said. “He obviously was not a threat to anyone. But the judge said there would be no exceptions in this case.”
Fr. Lubrano said he questions the rationale behind the iron-fisted deportation laws that have intensified since the late 1990s.
“All of us … are not natives to this country, if you look back at history,” Fr. Lubrano said. “(Today’s immigrants) are doing what our forefathers did. They’re looking for a better life. I have to be honest; I have very little trust in our government in terms of its immigration procedures. My hope and prayer is we open our hearts and minds …. and welcome our sisters and brothers, no matter where they are from.”
The postcards are important, Sr. Josephe Marie, said, because they are a means of pressing legislators to look long and hard at current laws.
“What we start here is momentum,” she said. “We are working toward reform on this issue. We are in this together, seeking out workable solutions, based on values.”