BY ANNE ABBOTT | April 13, 2018
Editor’s Note: The Church of St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit parish in New York City, works with the New Sanctuary Coalition to engaging parishioners in accompaniment and support work for the immigrant and refugee community in the city. This reflection from parishioner Anne Abbott highlights one individual’s experience of this program.
“Immigrants and Refugees Welcome.”This banner hangs outside St. Francis Xavier in Manhattan. As a parishioner I am grateful for this as well as for the leadership of our pastoral staff and the example of those who worship there with me. Through them I have felt called to participation in the New Sanctuary Coalition, an interfaith network in New York City standing publicly in solidarity with families and communities resisting detention and deportation in order to stay together. This has allowed me to accompany asylum seekers who are pursuing their dreams to find a haven in the U.S. It has provided me with a way to respond to the injustices I see carried out daily by our government against immigrants and refugees.
Recently, the parish offered a course on the Catholic Church’s social justice teaching, including ways our parishioners engage in service to our community. There were presentations on racism, prison ministry, immigration work. We were encouraged to use the Examen to facilitate a direction for ourselves. I found myself drawn to immigration work and attended a training by the New Sanctuary Coalition which confirmed this. At this training, we were taught to refer to asylum seekers as “friends” which opened my heart and mind to the work. I was aware that there are many “friends” among us who have come to the U.S. seeking a better life and in many instances safety and religious freedom. They have children who are U.S. citizens and are contributing to their communities in a variety of ways. Many share my Catholic faith.
I am the granddaughter of immigrants who came to the U.S .for a better life. Here they raised children who in turn raised children who have made contributions to our country and have integrated into our society. I feel privileged to have some part in the same process for today’s immigrants and the ways in which I am supported by my parish to do so.I am a practicing Catholic who takes seriously the call to love my neighbor as myself, to welcome the stranger, to work for justice. When faced with the outcome of the 2016 election I experienced overwhelming feelings of sadness, loss, despair, and anger. My participation with New Sanctuary and the support of my parish has enabled me to channel these feelings and to practice my faith in real and meaningful ways. Because of them, I have been able to accompany young women who bring their children to ICE check-ins and court hearings. I have been present with the family of a young man who had been in detention while waiting for his asylum hearing. I witnessed the devastation he and they experienced when he was denied asylum and sentenced to deportation. I felt incredible sadness when he turned to us and said, “thank you for coming.” I was grateful to be in federal court when the judge freed Ravi Ragbir from detention, indicating that the government had acted in ways that were unworthy of our Constitution.
I am certain that these events are changing me in profound ways that I cannot yet express or understand I only know that this is a journey I am privileged to be on and continue to try to be open to all that it brings. I look to the support of my parish to grow in faith, hope, and love and remain grateful for the opportunities it continues to present.
[This piece was originally published on the Campaign for Hospitality website on April 12, 2018.]
Anne Abbott is an intentional parishioner at St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit parish in New York City. She is a retired hospice social worker who lives in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. A lifelong Catholic and New Yorker, she participates in the liturgical life of the parish, serves as a Eucharistic Minister at Mt Sinai Hospital, and engages in the parish’s support for immigrants and refugees.