Commentary

'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' (Acts 9:4)

Originally Appeared in : 9905-2/28/19

I witnessed the body of Christ tormented and anguished. I witnessed the Body of Christ cast into shadow and fear. I witnessed the suffering body of Christ on an ordinary weekday in an ordinary North Carolina town. 

 

An ICE raid at a local manufacturing plant saw the arrest of dozens of my fellow parishioners. The shock was as though a tornado had swept through town and, in the arbitrary way tornadoes move, upended human lives. 

 

The night after the raid my parish responded by offering a presentation followed by free private consultations with immigration attorneys to those whose loved ones were taken into custody. I volunteered to help. Many family members were too afraid to venture out. Others arrived, stricken with grief. A grandmother was holding a nursing baby whose mother was detained. The baby was refusing a bottle. A day after the raid, many of these family members still had no idea where their loved ones were being held.

 

Other families refused to wait for the services my parish provided and immediately retained their own immigration attorneys. Those fees are expensive, an expense that becomes even more overwhelming because the families have lost the income of the family member in custody.

 

As a director of religious education, I know many of these families. Their children prepared for the sacraments in the program I coordinate. Some are currently in our Confirmation preparation. I have been asked to write letters of support for their fathers and mothers. 

 

When I consult the church records to get details for these letters, I often discover that these parishioners have been members of our church far longer than I have. One, the mother of four bright and courteous young people, has been an active parishioner for over 20 years. 

 

Her oldest, a young man who made a strong impression on me when he was preparing for Confirmation, is now a sophomore in college. When he learned about the raid, he told his professors he had a family emergency and immediately drove home to help his father. 

 

When I saw him the day after the raid, he told me about the family’s attempts to locate their mother. They drove to a town where they had been told she was being held, waited for visiting hours, only to be informed by a guard that she had been moved to another county. 

 

I received a text from him two days after the raid. He told me his mother had just been released to the family. She was still in legal jeopardy, but she was out of jail. He said she told the family that while detained, she and some other women taken into custody with her, prayed constantly. The family was overjoyed when she returned to them. 

 

These raids took into custody 200 people in North Carolina in a period of two days. In the newspapers, a spokesman for ICE admitted that some of the people targeted were “collateral.” That is, they have no criminal records other than violating immigration law. 

 

The word “collateral” dehumanizes the loving mothers and fathers whose children now weep. The word “collateral” fails to acknowledge the hardship now faced by families whose incomes are halved or gone, and who now face steep legal bills. Christ never referred to “the least among us” as collateral.

 

Lest a reader be inclined to blame the parents whose crime was to seek a better life in this country, in many cases decades ago, that reader may want to review our broken immigration system. And consider the possibility that employers in the past have chosen to recruit and rely upon low-wage workers from Latin America. And – until recently – we as a society looked the other way as long as these mothers and fathers, in every other respect, were law-abiding. 

 

I do not know how this suffering ends. The Sunday after the raid, I asked Miguel, a young adult and one of my faith formation volunteers, to lead our teens in prayer. We could not have faith formation as usual under such traumatic circumstances. Miguel prayed from the heart and encouraged the youth not to let the darkness extinguish their inner light. 

 

I do not know how the suffering ends, but I know how it continues. And I witness the uncertainty and fear among even those who were only indirectly affected by the raid. 

 

But, I also see within these Catholic brothers and sisters of mine — of yours — deep faith, courage, and resilience. I watch them in their Garden of Gethsemane, and I see them crying out to God. I pray with them that they will be spared having to drink from this cup. But if they must, may I not be caught sleeping, but stay awake and present to their pain. 

 

A fund has been established at my parish to provide help with food and utilities for those parish families whose loved ones were taken in the ICE raid. If you are interested in learning more, please email me. 

 

Mary Hood Hart is a freelance writer and educator living in Pittsboro, NC.  She can be reached at maryhoodhart@gmail.com

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