BY BILLY MYERS | October 23, 2019
On the morning of September 5th, I gathered along with hundreds of religious and laypeople in the beautiful St. Mary’s Newark Abbey. We were all there to protest and to say together: Stop the inhumanity. In Newark for the Catholic Day of Action, I had the opportunity to engage critically with a particular social injustice—the abuse of immigrant children and families by our government. This opportunity to put my faith into action by engaging with social justice was empowering and enlivening.
In the morning as we all began to gather I felt as though I wanted to cry, not tears of sadness, but tears of joy. Joy because the event renewed my faith. I have been so frustrated with the Catholic Church for so long, yet in that abbey, I finally felt at home in the Church. This fulfilled a long-held desire. I had longed to find a community in the Church rooted in social justice, a community committed to bearing witness to the injustices of our world. I had not felt part of a faith community that shared my passion for social justice until that gathering in St. Mary’s. I felt connected to the other people in the church physically, emotionally, and spiritually. United by our desire to live out our faith, our belief in Catholic Social Teaching and in God. A beautiful, diverse, complex God in whose image we are all made.
As we left the church and began to march, I also felt connected to those we were protesting for: the migrants suffering at the border. We arrived at Broad Street in front of the Federal Building that houses an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office, where Cardinal Joe Tobin spoke of the importance of welcoming the stranger. He said, “As a nation, we must come together for immigration reform, which defends the family, protects human dignity, and enshrines the sacredness of life.” The presence of Cardinal Tobin demonstrated to me that those in the hierarchy of the church understand the importance of combating social injustice. After a blessing from Cardinal Tobin, we began to block the street as some laid in the shape of a cross in the intersection. Those who were partaking in the civil disobedience wore a poster with the face of one of the seven children who have died in a detention center. Stories describing the awful conditions at our detention centers were read aloud. Between each story, we prayed three Hail Marys and called upon the Mother of God to be with us as we listened to and acknowledged these difficult experiences. In the midst of all of this, I felt immensely connected to my fellow humans, to those suffering and dying at the border. Once you feel this connection you have no option other than to help others and work toward justice. Because you suffer with them.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together.” (1 Corinthians 12:26)
When we do not challenge ourselves to experience the suffering of other people, then it becomes easy to disconnect from them and their reality. I struggle to find the best way to empathize with others, to enter into their suffering, so that I may journey with them, even in the smallest way. Yet at the Catholic Day of Action, as I stood surrounded by people who are dedicated to ending child detention, as we put our faith into action, I felt I entered more fully into the suffering of the migrants at our southern border.
Moving forward I hope to connect more fully with others and meet them in their suffering as best I can. The Day of Action provided an opportunity for me to learn from and connect with those directly affected. When we truly connect with others, then can we begin the work of social change.
“If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” –Lilla Watson
[Editor’s note: Billy Myers is a guest blogger for the #JVReflects blog series. He connected with ISN at the Newark Catholic Day of Action in September 2019.]
Billy Myers is a 2019-2020 member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. He serves at the University of Detroit Mercy, working in the ministry office. Billy’s focus this year is engaging college students in service opportunities and social justice issues. He graduated from St. Norbert College where he studied music and theology, his two passions in life. Billy is from Port Washington, Wisconsin.