Do more than welcome – stand in solidarity with needy
'UndocuBus' immigrants arrested, then released
CHARLOTTE — All Catholics should stand in solidarity with the poor, the immigrant and the powerless, preached Glenmary Father Les Schmidt during the Sunday Masses at St. Peter Church Sept. 2 – a pointed message directed to everyone watching or participating in the Democratic National Convention this week as well as the wider Catholic community.
St. Peter Church sits squarely in the middle of the uptown area for the DNC, and Mass was punctuated by the noise of helicopters flying overhead, intermittent police sirens, and construction crews erecting traffic barriers and stage trusses outside on Tryon Street. Security was thick around the little brick church, but local Catholics braved the hullabaloo to attend Mass and listen to what Father Schmidt had to say.
Father Schmidt, a retired Glenmary Home Missioner priest in residence at Sacred Heart Church in Big Stone Gap, Va., is well known for his work with social justice issues such as workers' rights, mountain-top removal and criminal justice. In addition to his advocacy work, he played a key role in two pastoral letters from the Catholic Bishops of Appalachia: "This Land is Home to Me" by the Catholic bishops of the region (1975) and "At Home in the Web of Life" (1995). A second edition of the letters was published in 2000.
More recently, Father Schmidt has been serving the U.S. bishops as an advocate for workers' rights, traveling around the country and speaking up for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.
Father Schmidt's message on advancing the common good was particularly appropriate this Labor Day weekend, in which Mass began with an ecumenical hymn "Praise with Joy the World's Creator," which was sung to the familiar strains of "Lauda Anima" ("Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven"):
"Praise with joy the world's Creator, God of justice, love and peace; Source and end of human knowledge, God whose grace shall never cease. Celebrate the Maker's glory, Pow'r to rescue and release.
"Praise to Christ who feeds the hungry, Frees the captive, finds the lost; Heals the sick, up-sets religion, Fearless, both of fate and cost. Celebrate Christ's constant presence: Friend and stranger, guest and host. ..."
In his homily, Father Schmidt encouraged Catholics to live their faith each day in their daily work, no matter how important or humble their jobs may be. He also implored Catholics to "bring justice to the world" through comprehensive immigration reform.
"And to bring justice to the undocumented is to make sure, in the words of the bishops – all 433 of them, including our own (Bishop Jugis)," he said, that "these undocumented workers count just as much as you and I. Yes, we too want to seek immigration reform, with the rights of workers, with a pathway to citizenship."
Father Schmidt also congratulated St. Peter Church for its tradition of welcoming people of any background and social status over its 161-year history as the oldest Catholic church in Charlotte.
"There are no outsiders in God's Kingdom," he said, and St. Peter Parish is "a shining example" of this fact.
But we as Catholics must do more than just make people feel welcome, he emphasized. We must stand with people in need, fighting for their rights as human beings and fellow children of God. That's what the Church's message of "solidarity" truly means.
Do as Jesus teaches, he said, through one's example rather than through coercion.
"Be a witness to the world that (people) do count, they do matter – and solidarity is the best way to show it."
After Mass, Father Schmidt met up with a friend and colleague on the steps of St. Peter Church – Russian Orthodox priest Father David Garretson from New Jersey, who was working this week with the union crews setting up for the DNC. The two priests hugged each other in welcome and then crossed Tryon Street together to bless the workers who were putting together the large metal trusses for a stage at CarolinaFest, the city's Labor Day and pre-DNC celebration.
What do the U.S. bishops say?
The U.S. bishops issue a statement each Labor Day to address the need to protect workers' rights: "Workers, owners, employers, and unions should work together to create decent jobs, build a more just economy, and advance the common good." Read the full text of the 2012 Labor Day letter.
— Patricia L. Guilfoyle, editor
'No papers, no fear'
Also in his homily, Father Schmidt noted that 50 undocumented workers had recently boarded a bus in Phoenix, Ariz., and were traveling to the DNC to highlight the plight of some immigrants in America . They were taking a risk riding what was billed as the "UndocuBus." They were due in Charlotte around 6 p.m., he told worshippers at the early Masses, and he asked them to come back and stand with them when they did.
The bus actually arrived early, however, and some of the members went to join a protest march put on by people who identified with the Occupy Wall Street movement.
"They are strong individuals," said the Rev. Johnny B. Hill, a Martin Luther King Jr. scholar and faith leader in the "Building the World House" project, a national ecumenical effort that is advocating for immigration reform as a civil rights issue. "They wanted to do something else."
Still, Hill gathered many volunteers, Father Schmidt and Orthodox Father Garretson (now dressed in a grey cassock and wearing a large pectoral cross), and they took a group picture anyway.
As they did, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, who is considered the host for the Democratic National Convention, walked by. The group shouted, asking him to join them, and he trotted over to stand in the front row, right in the middle behind a banner that read, "Building the World House."
He said he had no idea what issue they were espousing, but he knows "the people" who were standing there. He chatted for a minute or so with Jesuit Father Pat Earl, pastor of St. Peter Church. He also gathered up some of the literature being handed out.
"Building the World House, Coming Together to Continue King's Dream" is a coalition of religious and social organizations dedicated to reform "immigration policies in Georgia and the United States, to ending "mass incarceration" and the privatization of prisons," ensuring "that every family has a viable path toward the dignity of labor and can earn a living wage."
Hill said immigration reform is "the civil rights issue of our time," according to a press release from "Building the World House."
According to the release, the undocumented workers have come up with the chant "No papers, no fear" to illustrate their fight for justice.
Hill was scheduled to speak about "Building the World House" at St. Peter Church on Wednesday during a week's worth of social justice programs the parish is hosting to coincide with the DNC.
Hill will speak from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. The public is welcome to attend. Read details about this program and others this week here.
Ten of the undocumented immigrants from the "UndocuBus" who participated in a civil disobedience demonstration were arrested Tuesday and jailed overnight. After meeting with ICE, the were released on Wednesday. Actress Rosario Dawson, who stood with the protestors, was not arrested.
— Stephen C. Guilfoyle, correspondent
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