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June 9 - June 22, 2013

Gathering helps people recharge reform efforts

Jose Alberto Hernandez from Most Blessed Trinity Parish in Waukegan gives his testimony during the service. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

A couple in traditional Filipino dress process down the aisle of Holy Family on Roosevelt Road, May 30. They joined other Catholics for a prayer vigil to pray for immigration reform. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Cardinal George follows along with the prayers while Father Dan Flens assists him. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Immigration reform supporters make their way to Holy Family Church for a pilgrimage and prayer vigil in support of immigration reform on May 30. Pilgrimage groups left from Old St. Patrick's, Notre Dame de Chicago and St. Adalbert's churches and proceeded to Holy Family Church on Roosevelt Rd. carrying banners, signs, and symbols from their local parishes, or a symbol of their own immigrant past. Some wore their national ancestor's traditional costume.Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

A woman carries a box of signed petitions in support of immigration reform as she makes her way into the church. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

By Michelle Martin

Staff Writer

More than a thousand people made their way to Holy Family Church, 1080 W. Roosevelt Road, on May 30 to take stock of how far the journey toward comprehensive immigration reform has come and to gather strength for the rest of the journey.

They presented a portion of 100,000 postcards filled out by members of more than 150 parishes asking their members of Congress to vote for comprehensive immigration reform.

Cardinal George, who presided at the prayer vigil, noted that Holy Family Church was built in 1860 by Irish immigrants, and its walls have stood witness to the stories of immigrant families ever since.

“If they could talk, we would hear the stories of immigrants. These churches continue to receive immigrants. These churches continue to be a witness to stories of great joy and great sorrow,” said Cardinal George. “They are stories of great trials and many difficulties, and all the stories of families.”

Representatives of two immigrant families shared their stories.

Blanca Rodriguez, a parishioner at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Parish, 6200 S. Lawndale, was born in the United States and is a citizen, but her father does not have legal resident status. She spoke of being in the car with him when he was stopped by police and asked to show a driver’s license and other documents.

“As the police officers were talking about whether to take my father in so he could be deported, I closed my eyes and prayed to God not to let my dad go,” said Rodriguez, who spoke with her parents and two younger brothers behind her.

Jose Alberto Hernandez, a parishioner at Most Holy Trinity Parish in Waukegan, told how he left his home in Veracruz, Mexico, in 2004, when he was 18, looking for economic opportunity, and indeed, he found employment here. In 2010, on a train trip to New York for New Year’s Eve, he and his friends were stopped by border patrol agents. They were the only ones on the train asked for identification, he said. After 10 days, he was released on $5,000 bail while deportation proceedings began.

Since then, he has married and had a child. His wife, Culeika, and 3-month-old daughter, Zoe, both U.S. citizens, stood behind him as he spoke; his next court date is in July 2014.

“There is no question that we need an immigration reform now,” said Hernandez, 27. “It is crucial to all of us who are in this country.”

The postcards presented include a call for a path to citizenship for undocumented people living in the United States; the preservation of family unity as a cornerstone of the immigration system; legal paths for low-skilled workers to come and work in the United States; and work to address the root causes of immigration, including economic hardship and persecution in immigrants’ native countries.

The vigil began with many participants walking from three other parishes — St. Adalbert, 1650 W. 17th St.; Notre Dame de Chicago, 1334 W. Flournoy St.; and Old St. Patrick’s, 700 W. Adams St. — and others being dropped off by buses directly at Holy Family. Representatives of several ethnic groups, wearing traditional clothing, led the procession into the church, and leaders of other religious groups participated as guests.

During the service, Elena Segura, the director of the archdiocese’s Office for Immigrant Affairs and Immigrant Education, acknowledged that many immigration reform advocates were discouraged when proposed legislation failed in 2007, but instead of giving up, they regrouped and began working to see how immigrants could help one another and how they could better educate native- born Catholics.

Since then, the office has created networks of priests and religious brothers and sisters who work on immigration issues, established the Pastoral Migratoria in 60 largely Hispanic parishes and Polish immigrant-to-immigrant ministry in 11 parishes, recruited immigration parish coordinators in 100 predominantly native-born parishes and reached out to Catholic DREAMers, who are young people brought to the United States without documents when they were children, who now want to stay in what for many is the only home they know.

The office and its affiliated networks redoubled their efforts in April in hopes of getting a new immigration bill passed. A version of the bill, crafted by a bipartisan group, is waiting for a Senate vote.

Starting with a kickoff press conference in April, supports have collected more than 30,000 signatures on petitions and visited 10 members of Congress.

Cardinal George said the effort must continue to keep policymakers focused on immigration.

“We are told again and again that it’s complicated, and it is,” he said. “But it’s really about one thing: how we can stay together.”