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What are the risks of providing sanctuary to people who are undocumented immigrants? The American Civil Liberties Union provides some answers to common questions on this topic. Please note, this information is intended to provide only a general overview and does not replace the council of a an attorney.

The Sanctuary Movement is a growing movement of immigrant and faith communities who are standing with groups made vulnerable by the current political climate, including immigrants at risk of deportation.

The idea of sanctuary often centers on civil immigration enforcement, but it can and should be much broader. Many communities pass “welcoming city” or similar policies with statements about how their local agencies will treat all people with respect, regardless of national origin, race, religious affiliation, gender identity, or difference in ability.

The Interfaith Sanctuary Toolkit was originally created by congregations and coalitions that make up the Sanctuary Movement and was revised and updated by the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice (UUCSJ), Unitarian Universalist Refugee and Immigrant Services and Education (UURISE), and Church World Service (CWS) for use by all faith communities.

BY ISN STAFF | April 3, 2017

On March 27, St. Thomas More Catholic Community in St. Paul, Minnesota became the second Jesuit parish in the United States to designate itself a Sanctuary Parish, following St. Agnes Church in San Francisco in January of 2017. “We declare,” reads the parish statement, “that undocumented persons in our community deserve to be treated with respect, dignity, and justice.”

The Catholic Church, Pope Francis, and the Society of Jesus have long advocated for immigration reform in the U.S.  St. Thomas More and its predecessor parishes, Immaculate Heart of Mary and St. Luke’s, have a lengthy history of working with undocumented persons as advocates and supporters. St. Thomas More engaged in an extensive discernment process to determine how the parish can today’s immigrant population in the Twin Cities and nationally.

St. Thomas More Catholic Community in St. Paul, MN officially designated itself a sanctuary parish on March 27.

As part of St. Thomas More’s discernment process, the parish held three discernment sessions open to all community members, established four working groups to research answers to questions raised in these sessions, provided a draft statement on sanctuary to parishioners and an opportunity to comment, and discussed the research and parish feedback with parish leadership. Many themes emerged.

The community acknowledges and respects the federal government’s obligation to protect borders and uphold U.S. immigration laws. “Nevertheless,” reads the parish statement, “we agree with the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference that immigration principles should always be at the service of human dignity and the common good of society. St. Thomas More is committed to increasing its advocacy for just and humane immigration reform at both the local and national level.”

As a sanctuary parish, St. Thomas More commits to advocating for justice for immigrants on both a local and national level; offering spaces for organizers, lawyers, and community members to meet; listening and responding to the call and needs of immigrant brothers and sisters; gathering for communal prayer to continually discern the movement of the Spirit in the parish community’s work, action, and lives; and developing a robust referral program to put those asking for help and guidance in contact with local agencies able to provide that help and guidance.

As part of the discernment process, it was clear to parish leadership that a majority of the responders in feel called to participate in more immediate, collective action than advocacy alone can provide. Many feel a biblical and theological call to act like the Good Samaritan who provided shelter, financial support, and comfort to a stranger in need or the innkeeper who offered Mary and Joseph a place to rest after a long journey.

St. Thomas More will support a sanctuary effort by opening space within the Parish Center for individuals facing deportation, especially where deportation would separate parents from their children or would separate people brought to the United States as children from the only homes they have ever truly known. The parish will also create an Implementation Team that will devise a plan for safely welcoming undocumented persons into the community and communal spaces; marshal independent financial resources to the extent possible to support the sanctuary effort; provide training for staff and volunteers on best practices for safely and lawfully welcoming undocumented persons into the community; and work with parish leadership to minimize insurance, financial, and legal risks to the parish community.

“We believe that our efforts are a calling of our faith and a reflection of who we are as a Jesuit parish,” reads the statement. “We respect all parishioners’ right to participate in advocacy and sanctuary efforts to the degree their personal discernments dictate.”

Upon announcement of the parish’s sanctuary decision, Fr. Warren Sazama, S.J., St. Thomas More pastor, shared reflections from parishioners who had spoken and acted in support of the decision, emphasizing the faith and justice dimensions of the action. One young parishioner shared:

“I was a part of the growing statistic of young Americans who identify as spiritual but not religious. Before my husband and I came to STM two years ago, my image of the Church was tainted by nodes of scandal, exclusivity, and patriarchy. Then I got to know the STM community. STM began to transform my image of the Church to a good, compassionate, welcoming one. I started to talk about my church (as a millennial! gasp!) with my non-religious classmates (I’m in business school) and friends. I started to defend my Catholic faith. Then, I did something unexpected: I decided to go through the RCIA process at STM to discern becoming a confirmed Catholic. I’ve felt let down by the Catholic Church many times, but the prospect of STM serving as a sanctuary parish has restored a lively faith in me: I’m ready to engage, give, help however I can. I’m not a lifelong parishioner (yet), but I can tell you: sanctuary won’t divide this parish. Sanctuary is who this parish is.”

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published as part of the Ignatian Solidarity Network News From the Network series.

BY KELLY SWAN | January 20, 2017

On the evening of January 19, parishioners gathered at the doors of St. Agnes Church in San Francisco invoking a blessing and making a bold commitment to serve as a sanctuary church for the community.

Give us the courage to open these doors and the doors of our hearts to all who knock and seek refuge.

St. Agnes is the first U.S. Jesuit parish to publicly declare itself a sanctuary church for immigrants who may be impacted by policy changes anticipated under the new presidential administration. Putting faith put into action is not something new for them.

The parish is home to the Ignatian Spiritual Life Center, designed to draw individuals into an authentic relationship with God while exploring the call to live out this relationship in the world.

Parishioners blessing church doors at “Prayers of Light” vigil on January 19

After the November 2016 election, a parishioner who, as a religious sister, was deeply engaged in the sanctuary movement of the 1980s approached parish staff and pastor Fr. Ray Allender, SJ, urging discussion of how St. Agnes might draw from those models of sanctuary to similarly uphold the dignity of immigrants in the current global and U.S. climate.

Parishioners, joined by Fr. Allender and Natalie Terry, Director of the Ignatian Spiritual Life Center, understood the necessity of exploring the new sanctuary movement. “We need to do this,” explains Terry, “to be faithful citizens and good members of our community.”

Public sign welcoming immigrants and refugees at the Ignatian Spiritual Life Center

The decision to declare St. Agnes and the Ignatian Spiritual Life Center a sanctuary was ultimately made by the parish ministry team. “We already call the space in which we gather to break bread a sanctuary,” shares Terry, of the support of the parish. “We are not doing anything radical. We are simply doing the work of being members of a community, as a Catholic church.”

A statement released in anticipation of the vigil on Thursday outlines specific ways in which sanctuary will manifest in the parish community. Involvement will be varied and comprehensive, including: engagement with the San Francisco Rapid Response Network to respond and be present during ICE raids in homes or workplaces, formation of an Accompaniment Team to support families affected by raids, offering the Ignatian Spiritual Life Center as a safe meeting space for organizers and a refuge for families or individuals facing deportation, and listening and responding to and communally praying for immigrant brothers and sisters.

“We state clearly that there are no illegal people…” reads the sanctuary statement. “There are undocumented people and they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity just like any person in our community.”

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published as part of the Ignatian Solidarity Network News From the Network series.