Group launches fast for children in detention centers

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Thursday, October 17, 2019

Group launches fast for children in detention centers

The Archdiocese of Chicago’s Immigration Ministry, along with ecumenical and interreligious guests, hosted “They’re All Our Children,” prayer vigil on Oct. 16, 2019 at the Healing Garden, Holy Family Church, 1080 W. Roosevelt Road. The group announced a 40-day call for praying, fasting and action for immigrant children and their families. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Seventh and eighth grade students from Our Lady of Guadalupe School, Chicago, hold a pledge to pray and fast for immigrant children. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Gregory Abdullah Mitchell, executive director, The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, gives a reflection during the service. On the right is Rabbi Reni Dickman, executive vice president, Chicago Board of Rabbis. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Larry Dowling, pastor of St. Agatha Parish in Chicago, comforts Mercy Sister JoAnn Persch as she reads the name of detained children who died. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students from Our Lady of Guadalupe School listen as names of detained children that have died are read. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students hold pictures of detained children who have died. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Colleen McHugh, immigrant pastoral coordinator at St Clement Parish, addresses the gathering. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A student from Our Lady of Guadalupe School holds onto a basket of bracelets to pass out to partcipants at the end of the service. The bracelets read "They Are All Our Children." (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Clergy and immigration activists pray during the service. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Mercy Sisters Pat Murphy and JoAnn Persch prepare to sign the pledge. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Participants sign a 40-day call for praying, fasting and action for immigrant children and their families. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

To read this article in Spanish, click here.

Dozens of Chicago-area Catholics were joined by Lutheran, Jewish and Muslim representatives as they all prayed for immigrant children held in U.S. detention centers at the Healing Garden near Holy Family Church, 1080 W. Roosevelt Road, Oct. 16.

The group sang and prayed at the “They’re All Our Children” service before participants each pledged to spend one of the next 40 days in prayer and fasting for detained immigrant children and their families.

Mercy Sister JoAnn Persch, one of the founders of the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants, teared up as she read the names, ages, countries of origin and dates of death of seven children who have died either in the custody of U.S. detention or after becoming ill while in custody since 2018.

As she spoke, seventh and eighth graders from Our Lady of Guadalupe School, 9050 S. Burley Ave., held photographs of the children: Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7, from Guatemala, died Dec. 8, 2018; Felipe Gómez Alonzo, 8, from Guatemala, died Dec. 24, 2018; Juan de León Gutiérrez, 16, from Guatemala, died April 30; Mariee Juárez, 1, from Guatemala, died May 10 in New Jersey after becoming ill in the Dilley, Texas, detention facility; Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vásquez, 2½, died May 14 in an El Paso, Texas, hospital after being taken into Customs and Border Protection custody the month before; Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vásquez, 16, from Guatemala; Darlyn Cristabel Cordova-Valle, 10, from El Salvador, who died Sept. 29, 2018, in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement in Omaha, Nebraska.

While Darlyn, who suffered from a heart condition, was the first of the children to die, her death was not publicly announced until May.

“For these children, and their families who mourn their loss, we pray,” Sister JoAnn said.

She then called on all people of faith to act to change the way migrants, especially migrant children, are treated.

“This moment in time required bold action,” Sister JoAnn said. “Since we are all God’s children, the pain of one is the pain of all. People of faith must use their voices to change this immoral and inhumane system. We have to act, and that’s going to look different for each of us. It means we each have to get out of our comfort zones. Sisters and brothers of faith, step out. Speak out. Have the moral courage to bring about change.”

Mercy Sister Pat Murphy cited the pastoral letter “Night Will Be No More,” released by Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso on Oct. 13. That letter traces the mistreatment of immigrants of color to white supremacy, Sister Pat said.

“We cannot let hate define us,” Sister Pat said. She referred to the signs reading “El Paso strong” that sprouted after 22 people were killed in mass shooting at a Walmart in that city in August. “Can we be ‘faith strong’? Can we have the courage to do what we have to do?”

The mission is clear, speakers said.

“There are 92 verses in the Bible that talk about welcoming the stranger,” said Mary Campbell, program director for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s effort to accompany and advocate for migrant minors. “I believe God has been definitive about what we are called to do, especially when it comes to caring for our children.”

The issue is moral rather than political, said Gregory Abdullah Mitchell, executive director of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.

“We see policy that separates mom from daughter, father from son, parent from child,” Mitchell said.

It’s happening not only on the U.S. southern border, but also in Syria, Iraq, to the Rohingya people in Myanmar and in Afghanistan, he said. “We need to change these policies. It’s not about whether you are red or blue, it’s about right and wrong.”

The “They’re All Our Children” service was sponsored by the Immigration Ministry of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office of Human Dignity and Solidarity, Priests for Justice for Immigrants, Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants, the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants, the Viatorians, the Claretian Missionaries, the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph and the Sisters of Mercy.



  • immigration
  • immigration reform

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