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Solidarity walk, Mass focuses on supporting neighbors

Sylvia McLain and her family take the "loving your neighbor part of Catholicism" seriously, she said while waiting with her husband, their three children and several hundred others for a prayer service to start on the St. Louis University campus April 8.

The prayer service at the SLU clock tower was the starting point for the "Solidarity Walk and Mass With Our Immigrant and Refugee Brothers and Sisters" from SLU to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. Several Catholic ministries and parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis organized the prayerful procession and multilingual Mass to show support for immigrants and refugees. Presidential executive orders have mostly halted refugee movement into the country and have sought to increase deportations of undocumented immigrants.

Holding a sign in the design of the St. Louis City flag with the words "Peace is Flowing Like a River," McLain said she welcomes immigrants and refugees who are trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. "This is a human rights issue," she said. "I teach my kids to stand with their brothers and sisters who don't have a clear path to citizenship."

Nearby, Shirley Davenport of Sacred Heart Parish in Festus wore a shirt with words from the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." It's a reminder that "most of us — our families — came here as immigrants," Davenport said. "We have a responsibility as Catholics to welcome and extend love to our neighbors."

The Matachines dancers from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Ferguson led the walk to the beat of a drum and were followed by Kurt Nelson, superintendent of Catholic education, and two of his children carrying a banner. At the SLU campus, a choir from Holy Trinity Parish in St. Ann led singing of "Make Me a channel of Your Peace" and "Christ Needs You" in English and Spanish.

Msgr. Jack Schuler, director of mission integration at Catholic Charities of St. Louis, led the opening prayer facing flags from countries around the world atop the Center for Global Citizenship on the campus. People held signs proclaiming "We're All Immigrants," "We Stand Against Xenophobia," "No Matter Where You Are From, You Are Our Neighbors" and more.

Jesuit Father Tom Greene, rector of First Studies at SLU, spoke briefly to the gathering, saying immigrants need welcoming and are "a opportunity to encounter Christ." He called for efforts to protect their rights and to reunite their families.

At the Mass, main celebrant and homilist Father John O'Brien, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, said the image of the forsaken Christ in our midst "is found in our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters. In our time and in our midst, Christ is being mistreated for political gain. He is exploited for financial purposes and ignored for convenience. He is bullied in our schools and threatened with violence in our neighborhoods. He is used as a scapegoat for our problems."

To applause, he said: "We want our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters to feel how much they are needed here. We are better because of them."

Charlie Steenberge, a student at St. Louis University High School and parishioner at Holy Infant in Ballwin, talked outside the cathedral basilica with about two dozen people in a group from Villa Duchesne, St. Joseph's Academy and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. "I want to make my voice heard," Steenberge said. "It's a problem when people are not accepting enough."

Marie Kenyon, director of the archdiocesan Peace and Justice Commission, said immigrants "are living in fear and uncertainty with very real cases of bullying and threats of violence against them. This walk came about because of Archbishop (Robert) Carlson's pastoral message on immigration in which he implored us to commit 'to walk with the immigrant and refugee' and to 'be a light in the darkness for others to see and follow.'" 

>> Unity

Father John O'Brien, main celebrant of a Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis April 8 in solidarity with immigrants and refugees, called the large and diverse congregation "a beautiful sign of our unity."

The procession was led by Matachines dancers from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Ferguson. A choir from St. Raymond's Maronite Cathedral sang at the Mass and an African family brought up the gifts. Two busloads of people came from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish and a smaller bus brought a group from St. Joseph Parish in Farmington.

Earlier, before a walk to the cathedral basilica from the St. Louis University campus, Arindam Kar, a St. Margaret Mary Alacoque parishioner whose parents came to the U.S. from India, said the event resonated with the concerns of immigrants. Kar, an attorney, volunteers to use his legal background in helping immigrants.

The archdiocese of St. Louis highlights its immigrant history. Mass is celebrated in 13 languages in the archdiocese: Arabic, Croatian, English, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, Latin, Polish, Sign Language, Spanish, Swahili, Ukrainian and Vietnamese. 

For a video and more information regarding refugees and migrants, visit this link: http://archstl.org/immigration

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