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home : commentary : op/ed October 17, 2017

Beyond the Stories -- What we learn when we listen to immigrants about their journeys

Rayanne Bennett
Associate Publisher

We all have stories that reveal who we are, where we came from, and how we arrived where we now stand. These stories may be charged with emotion, they may even be difficult at times. But we hold them close and carefully protect them, because they are a part of us.

When we share our stories, it can be an act of faith. It is giving others a glimpse into our lives with the hope that they will understand us better. It is taking a risk and sacrificing our self-interests to make a connection with another person or group of people. It can even draw us closer to God and one another.

That is the simple and beautiful exchange that played out more than a dozen times last week when Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., led a listening session with members of the immigrant community. On Sept. 27, before a gathering of more than 60 of their peers and individuals who journey with them, these brave and generous people shared their stories.  Mostly young and Latino, they spoke of how they came to be in the United States and what their lives are like dealing with the daily fear that their undocumented status might lead to deportation, a loss of everything they know and separation from those they love.

These stories, often told through tears, were so charged with emotion that many of the listeners cried in response. Each speaker’s soft-spoken words, sometimes in English and other times in Spanish, spoke to everyone’s hearts. While the stories may have been different from one to another, the feelings were the same across the board.

Their feelings told us what was important to them. We were able to see that they are not as much worried about themselves and their own futures as they are for their families – especially their parents and children. What would become of them if they were separated by deportation?  How could they bear losing one another?

We saw the toll that the daily worry takes on them and their families. We saw the sadness that grips them after their hopes are raised and then crushed over legislation that would have allowed young immigrants, brought here as children, to remain in the country.

We learned that for many of DREAMERS, this is the only country they have ever known.  They have fear about possibly being sent to their country of origin, a country they know little about.

Those who spoke at the listening session were full of promise and hope. They had made important strides and excelled in their lives, to their own benefit and that of their families. Their accomplishments were not for themselves, but for their families as well.

Sitting at the table as a member of this extraordinary assembly, I was both moved and surprised by the power of their testimony and their willingness to share it. I marveled that a hastily pulled together and loosely formatted gathering could be the catalyst for so much grace and insight. 

As many of them said, this cannot be about one session of listening. It needs to give rise to many conversations, deeper understanding and meaningful action on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ who happen to be immigrants.


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