BY ISN STAFF | September 5, 2019

On Wednesday, September 4, over 400 participants joined over 50 Catholic leaders who risked arrest for nonviolent civil disobedience as Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R., Archbishop of Newark gave a blessing to those participating.

Catholic Cardinal Tobin

Cardinal Tobin speaks to attendees at the Newark Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children.

Cardinal Tobin said, “We stand together in prayer and solidarity with our immigrant sisters and brothers. When they suffer, we suffer, the Church suffers, the Body of Christ suffers. We are one in the Lord and share in the very suffering of Christ.” 

The national campaign was developed by a Catholic Coalition of organizations, including the Ignatian Solidarity Network, to pressure the Trump administration and Congress to end the policies and practices that routinely traumatize children, particularly the policy of child and family detention. With the combined pressure from partner campaigns and since the beginning of this Catholic campaign in July in Washington, D.C., over 2,500 children have been released. 

immigrant children prayer vigil

A morning prayer vigil was held at St. Mary’s Church/Newark Abbey.

Newark was chosen for the second campaign event in light of over 20 years of activism of Catholics in and around New Jersey on behalf of those in immigration detention and targeted for deportation. The Essex County Jail, which contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was recently in the news over conditions for immigrant detainees that DHS itself said were not only unsafe, unsanitary and inhumane, they were among the worst in the country. New Jersey is home to three other detention centers, the Hudson and Bergen County Jails and the Elizabeth Detention Center which have also been plagued by poor conditions and avoidable deaths. 

CAtholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children

Hundreds of Catholics processed from Newark Abbey to the Newark Federal Building to call attention to the inhumane practice of child immigration detention in the U.S.

Sr. Erin McDonald, with the Congregation of St. Joseph, is a graduate of the former Wheeling Jesuit University and a current campus minister at the University of Detroit Mercy. She was among the more than 50 Catholic leaders who risked arrest as part of the Catholic Day of Action. “When I witnessed the Catholic Day of Action in July in Washington, D.C., I felt inspired to follow in the footsteps of the many Catholic leaders throughout the years who have put their faith into action to advocate for a more just and inclusive world,” she explained after the event. “I’m a Sister of St. Joseph. Our order was founded by a Jesuit priest, Jean Pierre Medaille, S.J., whose words and spirit continues to challenge us to love God and Neighbor without distinction. As a person of faith, I felt compelled to risk arrest in order to draw attention to the cruel treatment of our migrant brothers and sisters, most especially children, and to advocate for our country’s leaders to create more humane and just systems. I believe in the country I love and I believe we have the capacity to be a salve for the suffering of our neighbors.”

Sisters of St. Joseph

Sr. Erin McDonald (second from right) kneels in the street outside of the Newark Federal Building and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices.

In addition to the Ignatian Solidarity Network, attendees included alumni, faculty, staff, students, and parishioners from numerous Jesuit institutions from the region and beyond, including Saint Peter’s University, St. Aedan’s Parish, and St. Peter’s Preparatory School, all in Jersey City, NJ; Fordham University, St. Ignatius Loyola Church, and the Church of St. Francis Xavier, all in New York City; the Jesuits’ USA Northeast Province; the Jesuit Volunteer Corps; Georgetown University; and the University of Detroit Mercy, among others. 

Fr. James Martin, S.J., author and editor-at-large at America Media, Fr. John Hyatt, S.J., parish administrator at St. Aedan’s, and David Stump, S.J., assistant to the rector of the Jesuit community at Saint Peter’s University, joined numerous Catholic priests and religious sisters present at the event. 

Ignatian network institutions and individuals were invited to plan solidarity events in tandem with  Catholic Day of Action. The Gonzaga Peace Club at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C. hosted a prayer service for immigrant children with more than 300 students in attendance. The club also created prayer cards for use by teachers in religion classes throughout the day and used images and candles near the school’s chapel and in some classrooms to create reflective prayer spaces memorializing children who have died in U.S. immigration custody. Loyola Academy (Wilmette, IL) students Catherine Flannery and Grayson Pitt also planned a lunchtime prayer service for immigrant children in detention centers.

immigrant children Catholic prayer

Prayer service for immigrant children at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., held in tandem with the Newark Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children. [image courtesy of Gonzaga College High School via Flickr]

In addition to Cardinal Tobin’s presence at the event, several bishops sent statements of support prior to the Catholic Day of Action. “In the light of the Gospel and Christian tradition, we recognize the face of Christ in each migrant and refugee, and so we must respond to these poor and vulnerable people just as we would to Jesus,” wrote Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of the Archdiocese of Washington. “However, the current legal system is clearly not adequate to the task of respecting the dignity of migrants and refugees or otherwise seeing to the humanitarian needs of innocent children and their families. We ourselves must do what we can to help, including raising public awareness to press for positive action by the authorities at the border, and by Congress and the Administration.”

Catholic leaders form cross for immigrant children

Catholic leaders risking arrest form a cross on the street in front of the Newark Federal Building and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices.

With ISN, national coalition members sponsoring this event included Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Conference of Major Superiors of Men, Faith in Action & Faith in Action NJ, Faith in Public Life, Franciscan Action Network, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Pax Christi USA & Pax Christi NJ, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, and Stuart Center: Society of the Sacred Heart. 

Catholic leaders risk arrest in Newark

Catholic leaders risking arrest pray together on the street in front of the Newark Federal Building.

Additionally, many Jesuit institutions and organizations were among the 160 national organizational endorsements for the campaign, including Boston College Center for Human Rights and International Justice; Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School; Center for Community Service & Justice, Loyola University Maryland; Center for Social Justice, Georgetown University; Center for the Human Rights of Children, Loyola University Chicago, School of Law; Creighton Immigrant and Refugee Clinic; Detroit Jesuit Community; Fairfield Jesuit Community; Fairfield University Center for Faith & Public Life; Gesu Parish; Jesuit Refugee Service – Canada; Jesuit Social Research Institute; Jesuits – USA Midwest; Jesuits Midwest (Office/Commission for Social and International Ministries); Jesuits of the US Central and Southern Province; Jesuits West; Joan and Ralph Lane Center for Catholic Social Thought and the Ignatian Tradition; Kino Border Initiative; Marquette University Center for Peacemaking; Marquette University High School; Marquette University Office of Mission & Ministry; Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus; Resilience at Loyola Marymount University; Saint Ignatius Jesuit Community, Cleveland, OH; Schlegel Center for Service and Justice at Creighton University; Social Justice Program at Saint Peter’s University; St. Ignatius Parish San Francisco; St. Mary Student Parish; The Center for Undocumented Students at Saint Peter’s University; The Encuentro Project; and USA Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus. 

3 replies
  1. Avatar
    Dr.Cajetan Coelho says:

    Thus wrote Mahatma Gandhi: “You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind”.

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Mary TESTIN says:

    This is the kind of witness I’d like to see from more bishops–standing shoulder to shoulder with the laity and decrying injustice! This kind of witness will do more to positively influence the young than any catechesis. Thank you Bishop Tobin and all the people who came out to protest–very moving and makes me so proud to be a Catholic Christian!

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    ANDRÉ HARKIN says:

    Proud to know personally Cardinal Joe Tobin , a Redemptorist Missionary and former Father General of the Redemptorist Congregation.
    Being a son of an Irish Emigrant he fully understands the full cost in suffering of todays emigrants. May all of the IRISH in America who read this post show their solidarity and use their influence in politics to alleviate
    and abolish the evil treatment of all emigrants. André Harkin C.Ss.R (BRASIL)

    Reply

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