A Catholic Parish Braces for an ICE Storm

A Catholic Parish Braces for an ICE Storm July 14, 2019

“We defend the right of the nation to make sure its borders are secure, but we also defend the right of people to be treated honestly, justly, and fairly as children of God.”

Rus Vanwestervelt/Catholic Review

NPR talks with one parish priest in Baltimore, Father Bruce Lewandowski, who describes the atmosphere in his community: 

LEWANDOWSKI: On Sunday morning, I open up the church. This particular Sunday was a couple of weeks ago. I opened up the church, and there was a van of people in front, on the right in front of the church. And I said, oh, you’re here early for Mass. And they said, no, we stayed here all night because we didn’t know where to go.

MARTIN: And who were they?


MARTIN: Were they…


MARTIN: A family.


MARTIN: And they slept in the…

LEWANDOWSKI: Mom, dad – and they slept on the street in their van in front of the church because their thought was, where’s a safe place? I go to church. And really, a lot of people think that – the safe place is church, which makes what’s going to potentially happen tomorrow even more insidious.

MARTIN: Are you worried that – I mean, is there some understanding that the boundaries of the church won’t be breached? I mean, do you have some fear that ICE will actually try to come into the church…

LEWANDOWSKI: We don’t know that.

MARTIN: …Take people?

LEWANDOWSKI: There’s no precedent for that. The concern I have is people won’t come to church. By doing this on Sunday, it’s creating even a more unstable situation for people because if you look at the – at least Latino immigrants, the vast majority of Latino immigrants are Christian. We have 3,500 families here that we count because a lot of people don’t register because of fear of the unknown and what happens if you give all your information to somebody. So in the area around here, there’s probably 10,000 to 15,000 people.

Talk about instability – couple weeks ago when this first happened, that Saturday, before – you know, this last time, the last round of this, no one was on Eastern Avenue. No one was doing laundry at the laundromat. The supermarket was empty. Nobody was on the street going for a walk, nobody taking their children to the park. It was a ghost town.

MARTIN: What are you hearing from people in this area? Because this is a mixed area, isn’t it? Right? And whenever we report on this issue, we always hear from people who have the view that you have, which is this is cruel, inhumane. And then you hear the other people who say things like, you know, if you’re not here legally, you shouldn’t be here. And I just wonder if you ever hear that. I mean, do you…


MARTIN: …Ever have – what do you hear?

LEWANDOWSKI: I publicly a couple of weeks ago here in front of our church on the news said our church stands with immigrants. We stand with our parishioners. We’re here to do everything that Pope Francis has called us to do. So the phone calls I got afterwards from parishioners – something like this – I hope ICE comes and gets you.

MARTIN: He’s a parishioner.

LEWANDOWSKI: He’s a parishioner. The divide in the country is also dividing the church.

Read it all. 

The Catholic Review in Baltimore had more on the issue late last month, and described how Catholic Charities in the archdiocese is reaching out to try and help people in the community.

And over the weekend, there was this story from New York City:

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, brought up the topic at a noon mass before the St. Frances Cabrini Shrine on what would have been her 169th birthday.

“With all the difficulties and tensions and challenges we are facing,” Dolan said.

He added that staffers with Catholic charities are working this weekend, answering hotline calls and providing outreach.

“We defend the right of the nation to make sure its borders are secure and its people are safe, but we also defend the right of people to be treated honestly, justly, and fairly as children of God,” Dolan added.

There is concern among religious leaders that when houses of worship become safe houses they are not necessarily set up properly to become extended living spaces.

“Sanctuary can’t be limited to this particular building,” Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, the executive director of Catholic Charities said.

“We need our neighborhood, our community, our nation to be a holy safe place.”

Catholic Charities volunteer Fanny Gomez spent Saturday spreading a message that help is available.

“To give them their rights, to look at their paperwork, to see what they’re missing in order to become a resident,” Gomez explained.

She added getting information to those who may need it is complicated by the fact that many who fear being caught by ICE this weekend are hiding out inside their homes until the impending raids die down.

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