By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
LCWR in solidarity with immigrants
Each year, the sisters representing religious orders from throughout New York State gather in Skaneateles for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).
This year the sisters celebrating their 50th Jubilee decided to use the gathering to send a message to the state’s elected officials regarding immigrants.
According to Dominican Sister Margaret Mayce, the participants of LCWR determined nearly one year ago to make immigration the focus of the conference.
“We wanted to focus on others rather than ourselves. So we decided to use the spring gathering to focus on immigration,” said Sister Margaret of Amityville in the Rockville Center Diocese. The gathered sisters, who stood outside the Federal Building in downtown Syracuse, represented 58 orders. Along with banners heralding various religious communities, participants in the dignified demonstration also displayed signs with the phrase “All are welcome” in various languages and scripts.
The sisters were joined by a handful of immigrants who shared their own testimonies, including a group of men who were all injured in an explosion that occurred on a migrant farm in Oswego County Oct. 6, as well as a woman who migrated to the U.S. from the war-torn, former Yugoslavia.
A group of musicians, including sisters played drums and sang “All Are Welcome” following the introduction. Then, several sisters and other participant read the Liturgy of the Word not only in English but also in French, Spanish and Italian. More songs accompanied readings from other church documents addressing the immigration issue as well as the testimonies from the immigrants themselves.
Emine Behrami fled Kosovo in the former Yugoslavia when the ethnic Albanians were expelled. After a harrowing journey to neighboring Macedonia, her family arrived in the U.S. Behrami repeatedly thanked the sisters and Catholic Charities for their help in her flight from her homeland.
Deacon David Sweeney then approached the microphone with a small phalanx of migrant workers who had been victims of the Oct. 6 explosion. When the explosion occurred, 10 men were in the building. A slow gas leak had gone unnoticed throughout the night. When one of the men turned on the stove, it ignited the gas. One died and one was still in the hospital suffering from injuries sustained in the accident. Of the men in attendance, one was confined to a wheelchair and another wore a neck brace. Others still had visible signs of injury. After Deacon Sweeney explained the plight of the men, Hugo Roblero spoke. With Deacon Sweeney translating, Roblero thanked “everyone who has supported us in this. “We hope there will be justice for all of us immigrants,” he continued. “We don’t want to be hidden from the law.” Deacon Sweeney explained that while the men were hospitalized, immigration officials went from room to room interrogating them. The officials were empowered by the Patriot Act, which supercedes many medical privacy regulations. “They were treated like aliens, like aliens from another planet….We should be ashamed of ourselves. We are complicit,” Deacon Sweeney said.
Following the brief speeches, the sisters signed and gathered letters to New York State Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The letters implored the senators to support McCain/Kennedy and to oppose H.R. 4437, as well as any legislation designed to terrorize guest workers and undocumented workers.
The letters were small green squares, designed to suggest green cards. After bringing the cards to the Federal Building, the sisters and other participants proceeded to the cathedral where Bishop Thomas Costello celebrated the Mass and delivered the homily.
The sisters filed into the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception singing “Come with Me for the Journey is Long.” Bishop Costello’s homily opened with a series of facts highlighting the relationship between the Catholic Church in the U.S. and immigrants. “With 71 percent of new parishioners being immigrants, some suggest that U.S. Catholics are contracepting themselves out of existence,” the bishop said. “The new population is here. It is to stay. It can be cursed, it can be insulted, it can be penalized. But we can’t bid them good riddance. This new population is a fact.”
The bishop’s homily noted that the government must address problems with the current immigration system. He also cited a scriptural basis for the acceptance of immigrants, quoting the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the Gospels. He also elaborated that church teaching compels Catholics to accept immigrants, citing the social traditions established by Popes Leo XIII, Pius XI, Pius XII and John XXIII. “Pius XII committed us to concern for the pilgrim, the alien, the exile, the immigrant of every stripe,” Bishop Costello stressed. While nodding to the “thorny” element of the issue of immigration, Bishop Costello underscored the basic stature of each human being. “The human dignity, the rights of every person commands respect no matter what their legal status,” Bishop Costello said. In conclusion he said the answer for the issue should arise from “prayer, education and advocacy.”