As it began to sprinkle on a cool morning in late March, Father James Flynn, a friend to immigrants around the Archdiocese of Louisville, stood in vigil in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) offices in downtown Louisville.
He’s been standing there, alone, a few days a week this Lenten season. He holds a sign that refers to the Gospel of Matthew, asking those who work for I.C.E., “I was a foreigner and you … ?”
The 87-year-old priest said in a statement submitted to The Record that he stands in solidarity “with brothers and sisters of mine from other countries. And I do so because of the words of Jesus to his disciples shortly before his death: ‘I was a stranger (aka ‘foreigner’), and you made me welcome (Matt. 25:35), or the reverse in his words: ‘I was a stranger (aka. ‘foreigner’) and you never made me welcome (Matt. 25:43).”
He goes on to explain that most people caught up in legal troubles with immigration lately “are in this country to survive, and most would prefer to live in their own countries except for the extreme dangers and/or deepening poverty faced there.”
On that cool and wet day in late March, the 27th day to be exact, Father Flynn met a woman leaving the I.C.E. office. The woman, who gave her name as Susanna, said she is a native of Mexico and lives in the United States freely under DACA, a law that allows some who were brought here as minors to stay legally. The father of her three children was not so fortunate, though.
He too was brought to the United States as a child, she said, but he doesn’t qualify for DACA protection because his parents, afraid he would be caught by immigration, didn’t enroll him in school. Essentially, Susanna explained, her partner has no proof that he grew up in the United States, even though it’s the only home he knows.
On the morning of March 27, he was on his way to work when he was rounded up in an immigration raid at the home of the man with whom he carpooled to work.
Susanna wasn’t sure what would happen, though she hoped his “clean record” would help his cause. She was in good spirits though and said the I.C.E. staff treated her kindly and was civil to her partner, as well.
Father Flynn promised to pray for her and offered his sympathy as the sprinkling rain turned into heavier soaking drops. They parted on the sidewalk with words of encouragement for one another. Susanna thanked him for his presence.
This exchange — and others like it — that Father Flynn has experienced in his lifetime of ministry embodies what the bishops of the United States called all Catholics to do in a pastoral reflection issued March 22.
In the reflection, called “Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times,” the bishops call on Catholics to accompany — to walk with — immigrants who come here from another country.
The reflection also is in lock-step with a new campaign Catholic Charities is launching this month. Called “Stand with Refugees,” the campaign aims to raise awareness about refugees and seeks funding for services for refugees.
Archbishop Kurtz similarly said that he “stands with refugees” when the Trump administration issued orders to stem the flow of refugees to the United States earlier this year.
There are many ways to walk with immigrants and refugees. The reflection issued by the bishops suggests the following:
– “Pray for an end to the root causes of violent hatred that force mothers and fathers to flee the only home they may have known in search of economic and physical security for their children,” the bishops said.
– Meet with newcomers in their parishes and “listen to their story and share your own.”
– “Reach out in loving dialogue to those who may disagree with us. The more we come to understand each other’s concerns the better we can serve one another. Together, we are one body in Christ.”
– Finally, they said, Catholics ought to call, write or visit lawmakers, urging them to “fix our broken immigration system in a way that safeguards both our security and our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration.”
The bishops and Father Flynn both point in their statements to Chapter 19 of the Book of Leviticus as a reminder of our responsibility as people of faith:
“When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt.”