By Lois Rogers
In a time when business as usual in Washington equates largely to contentious disagreements, 28 religious sisters – colloquially known as “Nuns on the Bus” set off on a whirlwind, 40-city, 6,500 mile road trip around the nation May 29 – raising a cry for a “common-sense” approach to comprehensive immigration reform they hope will achieve congressional consensus.
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The sisters are seeking to harness the kind of energy from social justice advocates that was generated by their first tour on the bus last year which publicized the plight of the marginalized during the run up to the federal budget adoption to great effect.
This year, they are striving to do that for immigration within the same, very dramatic time frame: the two-month summer season described by them as a very small window of opportunity to affect change before fall when all congressional attention shifts to matters fiscal and electoral.
Launched early in the morning at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, the maiden leg of the trip with seven sisters on board the vehicle with its “Nuns on the Bus” logo displayed in spectacular, wrap-around graphics, headed quickly for Scranton, Pa. Then, it wheeled around and headed back to New Jersey where some 500 faithful, including Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., had come to support their cause in a rally in St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville.
In his welcoming remarks, Bishop O’Connell noted the May 21 statement from New Jersey’s bishops urging support of fair and just immigration reform and praised the sisters’ efforts in reminding one and all of America’s heritage as a nation of immigrants.
During the event, co-sponsored by the parish and The Center for Faith Justice located on its grounds, the bishop lent his “prayer and encouragement to the cause of comprehensive immigration reform” which reflects Catholic social teaching.
The N.J. bishops’ statement, he noted, marked the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ pastoral letter on immigration: “Strangers No Longer: Together on a Journey of Hope”.
The letter re-iterated the call for an achievable path to citizenship that protects the integrity of families and allows low-skilled migrant workers to enter and work without fear. It urged Catholics to pray for the safety and well-being of all including the undocumented and to ask their federal legislators to support reform.
In themes that would echo throughout the hour-long presentation and the social time that followed, the bishop said “the principles embraced in that letter and our recent statement flow not from politics or any partisan agenda but from the Gospel, from Jesus Christ.”
As the sisters would proclaim in their subsequent presentations, the bishop spoke of the fact that “the Catholic Church in our country has always been a Church of immigrants, welcoming and ministering to them as Jesus encouraged.
“I am not political,” he stated. “I am a person of faith who shepherds a local Church. Our Church is pro-life, pro-family and pro-poor. I lend my prayer and encouragement to the cause of comprehensive immigration reform in which all three of those causes are united. Now is the time to take action, now is the time to welcome brothers and sisters as strangers no more.”
In her remarks, Sister of Social Service Simone Campbell, said the need to press for immigration reform is paramount over the next two months. “We have a narrow window of time – this summer, just two months to make this happen. There is a dramatic sense of urgency,” she said.
Sister Simone, the executive director of NETWORK, said that the best chance for immigration reform to pass is a bill now making its way through the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support. It’s urgent, she said, to seize the momentum now.
The bill – S 744 – was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee and sent onto the full Senate May 21, an action lauded by Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration.
In testifying on the bill before the Judiciary Committee Feb. 12, Archbishop Gomez said the “U.S. Catholic bishops strongly believe that comprehensive immigration reform should be a top priority for Congress and the Administration and should be enacted this year.”
Among other provisions, the bill provides for a lengthy legal path of obtaining U.S. citizenship for those in unlawful status who must have entered the U.S. on or before Dec. 31, 2011. Those seeking citizenship would have to pay filing and penalty fees and satisfy all tax liabilities before filing.
Along with provisions on family and employment based immigration, there are special provisions for obtaining green cards by those who have been granted lawful permanent residence in accordance with the DREAM Act.
With Sister Simone at St. Ann Parish were seven of the 28 sisters who will rotate on and off the bus on the three-week tour which will stop in 15 states including many, such as Florida, Texas and California which, like New Jersey, with large Latino populations where concern about creating a path to citizenship for as many as 11 million immigrants is strong.
The stop in St. Ann was coordinated by Ashley Wilson, who currently serves as a field associate intern for NETWORK. As a high school student, Wilson, a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish, Martinsville, in the Metuchen Diocese, was involved with The Center for FaithJustice’s JusticeworX, a program that gives high school students the opportunity to participate in community outreach efforts and learn about Catholic social teaching.
During their visit, the sisters asked everyone to sign post cards and contact their senators, showing their support for common sense immigration reform which would set up workable pathways to citizenship and help enable families to stay together and work and live here without fear.
Harking to the immigrant heritage of the country, Sister of Social Service Marti McCarthy spoke of the sisters’ own immigrant heritage and of working with immigrants.
Describing herself as the granddaughter of Czech and Irish grandparents, she said: “I am here because they believed in the American promise that if you worked hard, you could make a decent living.”
She said she lives in a rural county where immigrant workers who pick crops contribute much to the economy. “We want a bill that will make it possible for them not to live in the shadows,” she said. “We want a bill that will keep families together. We are on the bus to make sure that the family dreams are upheld.”
For more information on Nuns on the Bus go to www.networklobby.org/bus
To read the New Jersey bishops’ statement on immigration click HERE.
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