Interfaith prayer service: Welcoming the stranger

By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald

An Interfaith Prayer Service in Solidarity with Immigrants and Refugees on Feb. 25 at the archdiocese’s Hispanic Apostolate in Metairie began with a quote from Exodus:

“You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt …You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them, and they cry out to me, I will surely listen to their cry” (Exodus 22:20-22).

Father Buddy Noel, the ecumenical officer of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, organized the service with members of several faiths and ethnic backgrounds.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond opened the afternoon with the thought that all of us are one family in God, no matter what race or religion.

He encouraged attendees to center their prayers on immigrants and refugees who are looking for a new way of life, a new experience of freedom and reunification with their families. The prayer service was held in the context of a national political debate. Congress has set a March 5 deadline to devise a new policy for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who fall under the category of Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

“Jesus in his Gospels said, ‘When I was a stranger, you welcomed me,’” Archbishop Aymond said, praying for those living in fear because of current immigration laws.

“Today, we make a special greeting for those who are immigrants here in the United States,” Archbishop Aymond said. “We pray for them … reach out and care for them and do all we can for them. It is God who inspires us to be here, and we pray in that spirit of hope, as different countries and many different religions.”

Cultures pray in unity

Prayers from the New Testament, the Torah and Qu’ran were read in English, Spanish and Arabic (with translations in English, Arabic and Spanish included in a program). One reading from the Torah expressed God’s views on welcoming and caring for people of different backgrounds.

The service coincided with the Catholic Church’s push for a permanent DACA solution. On Feb. 26, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops organized a National Call-in Day, designed to encourage Americans to call members of Congress to protect Dreamers, provide a path to citizenship and not cause further harm to families and unaccompanied minors.

And on Feb. 27, a Catholic Day of Action with Dreamers was scheduled when hundreds of Catholic Dreamers, priests, women religious, religious brothers and others were to make informational visits to Senate offices in Washington, D.C., to push for protection of approximately 800,000 DACA immigrants who came from another country as children.

 

An immigrant speaks

Jose Ramirez, 20, who traveled alone to the United States when he was 10, gave testimony about his journey and how God brought people in his life, including Martin Gutierrez of Catholic Charities, to help him. He said God is the solution to any problem that a person might have, including immigration. He said there is better path to follow.

 

“The reason I am here today is to give glory and honor to God,” Ramirez said. “God brought me here because he had mercy on me. … God put a big family in my life in this country. These people helped me be legal in this country. Thanks to God for people like Martin and people who helped me with the immigration process. I want to bless each one of you and give thanks from the bottom of my heart.”

A poem about refugees was read in English by Dominican Father David Caron, director of the archdiocese’s Office of Evangelization, and Marianite Sister Marjorie Hebert, executive director of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Jenny Yanez, who read one of the passages in Spanish, attended as a representative of Masjid Abu Bakr Al-Siddique. She is director of the “Islam 101” course at her mosque in Metairie.

“Now, more than ever, we need unity,” Yanez said. “I believe that for those of us who share a love of God, for each other and humanity, we need to be the example of what we want the world to look like. (We need) to be around people who see the humanity of diversity, who see a world based on the love we have for each other instead of looking at people as enemies or others.

“We have to be the best people where God put us and share our similarities and respect for each other and enjoy our differences. You can’t do that if you don’t do it with people who aren’t different from you.”

The service ended with a final prayer in English: “O God, today you call us to welcome the members of God’s family who come to our land to escape oppression, poverty, persecution, violence and war. May we never build barriers against them in our hearts and in our minds.” Another passage in Vietnamese encouraged welcoming immigrants and refugees with “joy and generosity, while responding to their many needs.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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