Prayer service for immigrants held at DBQ parish

DACA recipients’ reflections shared as part of event

By Jeannine M. Pitas

Witness Correspondent

DUBUQUE — St. Patrick’s Church in Dubuque was cast in a contemplative semi-darkness when a small but strong group of community members gathered for a prayer service in support of immigrants and refugees, particularly the 800,000 recipients of the recently-terminated Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which had delayed deportation and offered work opportunities to people brought to this country as small children.

The service was organized by parishioners and sponsored by the St Raphael-St Patrick Social Justice Committee and the Dubuque Hispanic Catholic community. The event began with Father Alan Dietz­enbach, assistant pastor for St. Raphael and St. Patrick parishes, reading a passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew that tells of Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus’ flight to Egypt to avoid King Herod’s murderous intentions.

After this, two community members, Josephina Medellin and Alicia Ortiz, offered a prayer in Spanish for America.

“We are the church on a pilgrimage to Easter,” they said. “We pray that our clergy may have a parent’s heart, that the laity may be witnesses to the risen Christ, and that all our American countries might move toward progress through peace and justice.”

Gabriela Vega, who leads Hispanic Ministry at St. Patrick’s Parish, then shared an anonymous story of a DACA recipient from a family with multiple types of immigration status.

“DACA gave me access to educational resources I did not have before,” wrote the DACA recipient in a statement read by Vega. “I could complete associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, and I am now pursuing a master’s degree. DACA gave me a job with a living wage and a driver’s license, a legitimate identity, a credit line I hope to use to invest in the country I consider home: the United States of America. DACA gave me life.”

Vega also read the anonymous testimony of a local college student who was brought to the U.S. at a young age from India.

“In South Asian communities, people don’t discuss immigration status,” wrote the student. “When I realized as a high school sophomore that I had no social security number, a teacher helped me to find resources. DACA changed my life, letting me get a job, purchase a car, and travel throughout the U.S. I belong in the U.S. All I know of India is what I hear from family; my Hindi is terrible, and if I go back I will not survive in a country I no longer belong to.”

One powerful moment in the prayer service was a testimony from parishioner and DACA recipient Wendy González, a Dubuque Senior High School student who is, among other things, a cross country runner and musician.

“May we continue to unite in the prayer that the law will be just and give us a second chance to stay in this country that I consider home,” said González. “I especially pray that the leaders of this country will receive the grace and wisdom it needs to do what is right.”

After the service, González’s mother Eri stated that DACA was life-changing for her daughter.

“We are here as Catholics to pray that this government will change and give these young people a second chance now that DACA has been terminated,” she said. “They need this; they did not ask to come here, but this is the only world they know. Wendy came here at the age of one year and two months. Today, she is legally blind, and DACA allowed her to receive special help, training and life preparation that she still very much needs.”

Another powerful moment in the service came at the end, when all present were asked to commit prayerfully to one specific action they could take to support immigrants and refugees. René Meza, who played guitar and sang for the service, stated that his form of support is his music and his regular involvement in St. Patrick Parish.

“I am originally from Mexico,” said Meza. “I came here at age 22, and my father did the immigration paperwork for me. Here in Dubuque I have never encountered racism or rejection; I have always felt welcomed, and I want to extend that welcome to others.”

Christian Stillings, who is Contemporary Worship Leader at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church stated that he came to this service in an exercise of solidarity with those who feel threatened by the current administration and its policy.

“I wanted to listen, learn, and practice solidarity with people making their voices known,” said Stillings. “I was also happy to listen to some Spanish, a language that is foreign to me but nevertheless let me hear people share their testimony in their own language.”

When asked what his concrete action is, he said that he is supporting the campaign of a friend running for Dubuque City Council and plans to ask her to keep the welfare of undocumented immigrants in mind should she be elected. Sarah Gieseke is Executive Director of the Presentation Lantern Center, a Dubuque organization that provides hospitality, educational opportunities and advocacy to immigrants. She attended the prayer service out of a sense of solidarity.

“Since January 2017, immigrants have been through so much, particularly with our president’s immigration-related executive orders,” she said. “I hope that we can listen to one another, that lawmakers can make good policy and have compassion. This was my prayer during the service. The seventy volunteers at the Lantern Center, the Hispanic Ministry at St. Patrick’s Church, the Crossing Borders group, and other advocates in our community all give me hope.”

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