A political issue that has separated the nation brought people of different faiths together in Buffalo. St. Joseph University Parish in Buffalo hosted an interfaith prayer service on July 24 to pray for everyone involved in the Mexican immigration issue, from children to border guards.
"Tonight, we come from many different faiths and world views, but share the common divine inspired heart that calls us to stop the terrible treatment of people coming to our borders," declared Rob Mietlicki, chair of St. Joseph University Parish Refugee & Immigration Committee from the lectern. "Conscience is what makes us human. It is the divine humanness calling us to act, take a stand, educate ourselves to pray and to act in any way we can to end the terrible treatment of our brothers and sisters at our borders."
The evening included prayers led by Father Jacob Ledwon, pastor of St. Joseph University Parish; Professor Faizan Haq, a lecturer for intercultural communication at Buffalo State College; and Rabbi Jonathan Freirich, from Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo.
Reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Father Ledwon said, "For I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.'
"Then those sheep are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you sick or in prison and comfort you?'
"Then the King will say, 'I am telling the solemn truth, whatever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me. You did it to me.'"
Rabbi Freirich explained that to be a Hebrew is to be one who crosses over from one place that was not home and goes to another place to make a home. "This is not a Jewish thing, this is not a Christian thing, this is not a Muslim thing. This is a human thing. And it is an American thing. It's what we do. We go from one place that may have been home and go to another and make it home," he said.
After the prayers, the packed church heard from the voices of children as young ones from the parish read letters from the children who have spent time in a Texas detention center.
"I started taking care of a 5-year-old girl after they separated her from her father. I did not know either of them. She was very upset. The workers did nothing to try and comfort her. I tried to comfort her and she has been with me ever since. She sleeps on a mat with me on the concrete floor. We spend all day, every day in that room. There were no activities, only crying," read one girl.
"I was given a blanket and a mattress, but then, in the middle of the night, the guards took the blanket and the mattress. In fact, every night the guards wake us up and take our mattresses and blankets. They leave babies, even little babies of 2 or 3 months, sleeping on the cold floor. I think the guards act this way to punish us," read another.
One letter describes the center as a cage where the lights were always on, preventing the children from sleeping.
Although no one from the Refugee & Immigration Committee has visited a detention center yet, Mietlicki, an immigration attorney, said the letters and news coverage "seem to be a pretty accurate portrayal of what's happening down there."
St. Joseph University's Parish Refugee & Immigration Committee formed shortly after the 2016 election and refugee travel bans went into place.
"People in the parish community were concerned about what they were hearing in the news, so we formed the committee as a way to educate the parishioners about the issues effecting refugees and immigrants, and also to call on them to act on behalf of members of our community and across the nation," Mietlicki explained.
The committee works with Humanitarian Respite Center near McAllen, Texas and raises funds and for the Buffalo refugee center Vive, a program of Jericho Road. The committee also signs petitions for policy issues affecting immigration legislation.
One member, Jim Morrisey, is a first-generation American.
"My father came here when he was in his 20s," he said as a reason to support immigrants. "I could think of very little that was more important to do than to bring to the attention of parishioners the plight of people at the border."
His father came to the United States from an Irish farming family looking for a better life.
"He had a much easier times of it, in terms of coming in," Morrisey said. "I don't think there were the controls that they have now. I think in terms of being able to emigrate from Ireland to the United States back in 1929, I don't think it was that difficult to do. Now it feels like, people have come here, now they're pulling up the ladder so that others can't come. That's what I find most distressing."
Dr. Marianne Partee, from St. Martin de Porres Parish in Buffalo, and Amy Vossen Vukelic, from Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Harris Hill, both belong to #onebody, a ministry set on healing race relations.
"I think (the prayer service) is necessary. I am very pleased at the turnout, to see that people are actively here at a Catholic church filled on a Wednesday afternoon. I thought it was powerful," said Partee
"Human dignity is key to racial healing when we see each other as humans, like the rabbi said. That was powerful. It's not isolated to one group of people. It transfers. This is my way of trying to show I am not being complicit and I'm trying to find ways to act," added Vulic.