On March 19, 2017, one month and a week before it was to have taken place, the organizers of El Carnaval de Puebla, billed as transporting “an authentic Cinco de Mayo celebration to … Philadelphia,” canceled the annual event.
The reason? Fear that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents would appear en masse at the event and make arrest many of the 15,000 people expected to attend, many of whom would have been “without papers.”
Festival leader Edgar Ramirez told NBC 10 “the decision was ‘sad but responsible’ amid reports of more immigration enforcement arrests on the part of [ICE]”.
The report went on to say, “Hundreds of undocumented immigrants have been detained or arrested since President Trump took office. Trump campaigned on a pledge to strengthen enforcement of immigration laws.”
“ICE announced this week alone that 248 people in Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia were in federal custody awaiting deportation following two weeks of immigration raids.”
Ramirez said, “Everyone is offended by the actions of ICE. They did not feel comfortable holding the event.”
In response, Archbishop Charles Chaput convened a prayer service on Sunday, March 19, 2017, the feast of St. Joseph, for immigrants and refugees at Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral in downtown Philadelphia.
Roughly 200 people attended, with the audience roughly split between mostly elderly Anglos and Latinos of all ages, and a smattering of other nationalities and ethnicities, as well. Very few priests attended, although about ten women religious were in the congregation.
The event featured the bilingual readings common at mixed liturgies of whatever stripe, and these lessons were taken from the day’s First Reading about the rebellion at Massah and Meribah and the Gospel of John passage recounting the tale of the Samaritan woman at the well.
During his homily for the occasion, the archbishop said he “was hoping” that those who disagreed with “where the Church stands on immigration” would have filled the cathedral. Despite their absence, he went on to make the Church’s case as if they were there.
Saying good “people exist on both sides of this debate,” he noted that many immigrants and refugees “had a steady diet of anxiety and confusion these last months. And that fear and anxiety rests in great degree in the lives of families.”
He stated the Church’s position that “people have a right to emigrate when they need to find work and ways of making the lives of the family better” and that this is “a matter of basic human rights.”
“At the same time,” he continued, “the bishops of our country believe that a country has a right to an ordered immigration process. The concerns about a secure border and the concerns about enforcement of the laws of the country are significant. They’re important. They’re not just something we can put away.”
He next noted what is needed is “comprehensive immigration reform,” and justice demands “not just the enforcement of laws but” “a change of the laws to make them just and comprehensively faithful to the teachings of Christ.”
He said that “those who oppose immigration have weaponized this issue against others, especially against the immigrants.” Of course this happens on both sides, with many who favor liberalization of immigration laws using the term “racist” those who refer to “illegal immigrants”.
Amongst the attendees was Chris Clerkin, a student at Archbishop John Carroll High School in Radnor, PA. His government teacher had him attend because they had discussed the issue in class. He liked that “it was very informative” and said he heard “both sides of the equation.”
Also attending were José and Mercedes Hernandez. Originally from Juarez, Mexico, they immigrated to the United States 20 years ago. He started off as a dishwasher while she bused tables. Neither knew much English. Now he is a machinist and she a lab tech, and both are citizens.
Mr. Hernandez say they came “to pray and ask for God to make Trump change his mind.”
“He said first he was going to deport all of the criminals. That was fine, you know, drug dealers and robbers and rapists. Now a criminal is somebody who had a ticket for speeding or no license. So he’s [including] a lot more people than he was saying. Before they say the criminals were like 600,000. Now they are talking about 3 million people. I mean, he’s changing his mind. And we’re very afraid.”
Noting that in 2010, their hometown was the world’s most dangerous city, Hernandez recalled that in the same year, El Paso, which is just across the border, was one of the nation’s safest cities.
“They say like 85% of the people there are Mexicans,” he related. “So it tells you there it’s not that the Mexicans are the bad people. It’s not that the illegals are bad people. It’s the same like everywhere, you know? Camden, NJ, is really bad. DC, you go one block and are like, ‘Oh, where am I?’”
He noted his brother-in-law had tried to legally enter the United States for five years. Then September 11 happened, and it took him another six years to gain his green card. “It took eleven years for that … And he did it the right way.”
“If you have your family, and you have to feed them, you will do anything to feed them. You will rob. You will maybe kill. But these people just came to work. Most of these people came to work. They didn’t come to do crimes.”
Some characterize the Church’s stance on undocumented migrants as being schizophrenic. As talk host Al Kresta of Ave Maria Radio put it, there’s a “certain hypocrisy on the part of the Church when it says the government should enforce the borders, but once someone gets over the border, just forget about it.”
Philadelphia auxiliary Bishop Edward Deliman disagrees that the Church’s position is contradictory. “The Church realizes we have to secure our borders. We have to protect what we have. And yet at the same time we have to ask why are the people coming? They’re coming because they’re looking for a better life … and they require our attention and our pastoral care.”
Kresta doesn’t disagree. He simply disagrees with how the bishops are going about things.
“I don’t think the bishops should try to solve the United States problem with immigration,” he said. “I think they should be looking at the responsibility of Church.”
For instance, he says, “I have watched San Diego’s Bishop McElroy talk about disrupting the Trump Administration, and I thought it was disgraceful. What the bishop ought to be doing is turning to his own congregation and telling them that this is the greatest opportunity we have to show the love of Christ to men and women who are moving across national borders in pursuit of the family’s well-being, who are often under great danger, physical danger, and that they have a claim on our solicitude. They are people we should be embracing. They are people who should be living with Catholics. They should be being disciples. We should be involved in trying to regularize their citizenship. If they must be transferred back across borders, we should be maintaining our relationships with them. We should be helping them out financially.”
“I think this is exactly what disciples of Jesus do, and I think the bishops fail to create a Church in which people live like disciples of Jesus Christ. So they’re reduced to telling the government what the government ought to do with its policy.”
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