On Thursday, July 18th, hundreds of Catholics gathered together in Washington D.C. for a Catholic Day of Action to end child detention and stop the inhumane treatment of immigrants and refugees in the United States.
The Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word were proud to have two representatives in DC for this public witness: Sr. Jean Durel CCVI and Jennifer Reyes Lay, former Assistant Director of the JPIC Office and ongoing JPIC collaborator. As an Incarnate Word family, our charism calls us to respond with open hearts and hands to Christ present in those who are suffering in the world today, and as we have seen and heard throughout the past year there is incredible suffering happening right now throughout our broken immigration system.
The day began with a gathering on the Capitol lawn where faith leaders spoke out against the inhumane conditions and treatment of migrants and refugees, particularly the separation of children from their parents and the abuse of children in overcrowded detention centers. They reminded those present and those watching from around the world that our Catholic faith calls us to welcome the foreigner, provide food for the hungry, shelter for those without, and comfort the afflicted. When government policy and action is rooted in unjust and inhuman treatment, then these Catholic faith values we hold in common demand that we speak out and amplify the voices of those who are crying out, working to realize God’s peace and justice here on earth. After the speakers there was a moving prayer service that included testimonies of migrant and refugee children and prayers of lament and recognition of our complicity in their suffering.
At the conclusion of the prayer service, the crowd walked over to the Russell Senate Building where they gathered in the main rotunda and shared more songs and prayers. A group of 70 people who were prepared to risk arrest made a circle in the center and led the group in a rosary of the sorrowful mysteries, weaving in the names and stories of migrant children who have died in U.S. custody over the past two years. Capitol police informed the group that this was an unlawful assembly and that they would need to vacate the premises. All but the 70 who were prepared to risk arrest left the area, and as the rosary, prayers, and songs continued the police proceeded to arrest them one by one, until all that was left behind scattered on the floor were images of the children who had died.
Sr. Jean Durel CCVI was one of those 70 arrested by capitol police and charged with “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding” under DC Code 22-1307. She along with the others were handcuffed, escorted to police vans, and transported to the local jail where she was processed, charged, and released later that same day. All 70 who were arrested were released by 5:30 pm on Thursday.
Reflecting on her experience Sr. Jean said, “It was a real privilege to be present here in Washington DC and participate in this public witness and action with so many other Catholics. The little inconvenience we experienced being arrested is nothing compared to what the immigrants and refugees are experiencing in detention on a daily basis. Within the group that was arrested, there was a real sense of solidarity and we had the opportunity to share with one another about the work each person is involved in and what motivated them to partake in the action today. There was one sister who was 90 years old and had participated in multiple arrestable actions for justice issues. I am very grateful for this opportunity because it encourages me to not just stand by and think there is nothing I can do. There is something we all can do. I am hopeful that we will continue to participate in future actions like this.
Jennifer Reyes Lay, CCVI JPIC collaborator, was present to support and document the action, as well as offer assistance with jail support and welcome those who had been arrested upon their release. She said, “It was an honor to be present at the Catholicday of action in Washington DC, standing with Catholics living out our faith values, fighting for justice, dignity, and human rights. Together we prayed, sang, and spoke up for the vulnerable among us who are suffering at the hands of our government. It gave me great hope to see so many Catholics coming together and living into what the church as the living body of Christ is all about: love, justice, and peace. Today was a clear call for all Catholics to take action to defend the rights of our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters. I am grateful for all who joined with us in solidarity from around the country, particularly the CCVI family who gathered in San Antonio on Thursday evening!”
National organizers of the event have said that this is just the first in a series of planned actions to increase pressure on the U.S. Government to change its current immigration policies and practices and encourage more Catholics to take direct action. Eli McCarthy, JPIC Director for the Council of Major Superiors of Men said, “Today’s action was focused on increasing the visibility of Catholics willing to take more risks to significantly improve treatment of children and end child detention. This is only the first phase of a 3-part campaign to end child detention and thus create more political space to challenge family detention and beyond. The second phase will involve a direct action at the border in mid/late-August, and the third phase will include another direct action in DC and at the border in mid-Sept.”
As Sr. Jean said, we hope that the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word will continue to be active supporters and participants in the weeks and months ahead, joining with Catholics around the country to defend the human rights of our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters and say loud and clear with our words and actions: “Stop the Inhumanity!”