A parish priest asks: How do I respond when ICE comes for my flock?
And so it begins. News arrives by way of our people, young and old, of roustings by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, aptly known as ICE. As the pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Corona, N.Y., I hear the stories. Our parochial vicars, lay leaders and permanent deacons hear them as well.
How does a pastor respond to second graders terrorized because they believe their parents might not be there when they come home from school? Or to the elderly lady who bursts into tears in the middle of Mass because “they came into my house and took my husband”? Or to the Dominican-American citizen, born in Queens, the daughter of citizens born here as well, stopped in her car on the streets of Manhattan. When documents were demanded—driver’s license, birth certificate and passport—she easily produced the license. But who carries around their birth certificate and passport? She was given a summons to appear in court to prove that she is a citizen of her, of our, country.
How does a pastor respond to second graders terrorized because they believe their parents might not be there when they come home from school?
Then there was the threat of violence—“bloodshed” was the word they used—against a neighboring pastor, should the flag of Mexico ever appear in his church again, as it did for his parish’s Guadalupe celebration last December. “Because this is what our president wants,” he was told. My brother priest did what I would have done. He called the cops.
How to respond, indeed. The Saturday evening and Sunday following the release of the president’s new deportation guidelines in late February, I preached at all 12 of our Masses at Our Lady of Sorrows because the moment had arrived, the first of many I am sure in the current crisis. The moment to console, to accompany, to be in solidarity with, to be church together.
The spirit moved, gently, mysteriously, powerfully, and the grace of Holy Orders came to mind. I had the support of my three brother priests, who also accompany our people, “grace upon grace” visible. It wasn’t so bad, really, except that I had to preach the last three homilies seated because of the sharp pain that was like a knife in my lower back. No, it was very good. Our Lady of Sorrows is Our Lady of Consolation. Looking around, I noticed adults’ eyes glistening and kids, little ones, teenagers, 20-somethings, jaws dropping or grinning. Gratitude filled me.
The decisions of our government with regard to immigrants since Jan. 20 have been despicable, and support among Catholics for those decisions embarrassing.
The decisions and actions of our government with regard to immigrants and refugees since Jan. 20 have been despicable, and support among Catholics for those decisions embarrassing. How to respond when the Gospel is mocked, or worse, ignored? The primacy of the spiritual, our prayer first and last, assures us of peace in the struggle, even joy. Turning to saints and heroes has always been our way in the Catholic thing, especially in tough times. Who do I look to today?
Pope Pius XI (1922-39), confronted by thug politicians in Europe, Mexico and elsewhere, did not remain silent. In 1925, he established the liturgical Feast of Christ the King to call a world awash in “executive orders” back to reality. Twelve years later, his encyclical letter, “With Burning Concern,” raised defiance and resistance to new heights in the face of the grave sins of nationalism and religious persecution. Pius canonized Therese Lisieux, Don Bosco and Thomas More.
In that time of great resistance, Blessed Clemens von Galen, the “Lion of Muenster,” was forbidden to distribute his homilies to the public. So he called on friends in the British Air Force who then dropped thousands of copies out of airplanes all over Germany. Blessed Rupert Mayer in Munich was arrested repeatedly right out of the pulpit at Mass for his verbal broadsides against the criminal policies of his government. Each time he was ordered to cease and desist, he did it again. When he died of a stroke on All Saints Day, 1945, he was in the pulpit, preaching.
Recently, I visited one of our parishioners in jail, where he was brought by ICE. Having gotten all the necessary permissions and clearances, I was told that there was no record of my scheduled appointment. I insisted that the officer look harder, hinting that I might call his supervisor to help. Had they not allowed the visit, I would have politely refused to leave, even if that meant getting arrested. Blessed Miguel Pro, martyred in Mexico in 1927, came to mind with a chuckle. He used to say: “I hope they lock me up. I could use the rest!”
Suddenly the visitor’s permit was found and I was able to have a half-hour conversation with the man I came to see with no further fuss, other than having to speak on a telephone with security glass between us. The day before Father Pro’s funeral, by the way, the government announced that the public was absolutely forbidden to attend under penalty of this or that. Thirty thousand people showed up for the banned Mass at Mexico City’s Holy Family Church, overflowing into the streets. The Servant of God Dorothy Day, who never fails to inspire and console, visited Blessed Miguel’s grave in those early years before his relics were enshrined at Holy Family.
And so it begins. Where it will end I have no idea, but I don’t have a very good feeling about the outcome of the present crisis. I do know that we will continue to pray and walk together in solidarity and nonviolent resistance. No one can take our joy from us. After all, our best documents are our baptismal certificates.