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Pilgrimage for Citizenship: a symbolic journey for the common good

isaiah march
Courtesy of ISAIAH
Rather than wait on the sidelines and simply hope that politicians act, we hit the streets and made a Pilgrimage for Citizenship.

Earlier this year it seemed certain that some type of immigration reform would pass Congress; now hopes are dim. Yet the crisis remains and only worsens. President Barack Obama is soon to be responsible for the deportation of 2 million immigrants, and 11 million continue to live in this country as an underclass, often facing economic exploitation. By ignoring these facts and the harsh reality of families torn apart by our broken system, we miss the urgency of the moral crisis at hand.

Ben Anderson

“Every day I fear coming home and finding them gone,” Ivan, 19, told a large crowd last week in an Edina church. “I cannot imagine what it would be like to suddenly find my parents deported, leaving me to care for my two younger brothers. This kind of thing happens in my community. We need citizenship now.”

Rather than wait on the sidelines and simply hope that politicians act, we hit the streets and made a Pilgrimage for Citizenship. Last week more than 40 immigrant pilgrims walked 36 miles and visited six different congregations in the western suburbs. Like the mission in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus sent the 70 or 72, we walked from town to town, stayed with those who welcomed us, and shared our faith and stories in order to plant seeds of healing and transformation.

Maple Grove to Plymouth: a cold seven-mile walk

We quickly realized during the first seven-mile walk between Maple Grove and Plymouth how cold and difficult this journey would be during November in Minnesota. Maria, whose shoes were in no shape for this kind of walk, had to take them off and walk barefoot. But determination and faith – and better shoes – kept us moving.

God made each day easier as pilgrims shared their stories, gained support at churches, and were blessed with renewed determination. Isabella told a church in Minnetonka that she and her husband work 365 days a year and have no vacation days. “Our boss does not listen to us,” she said in Spanish. Last week she worked nights and walked during the day because, she explained, “I do not want to see families separated anymore.”

The faith community is united in pushing for immigration reform, and our pilgrimage reflected this. Catholic Charities, ISAIAH, and more than 15 congregations representing five denominations supported the pilgrimage.

This unity, however, does not seem to have affected Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., our congressional representative in the Third Congressional District. He met with our group in July, but he has refused a second meeting and will not publicly acknowledge the crisis immigrant families continue to endure.

'I need you to help me'

By making this pilgrimage, we hoped to change that. The long walk was a sacrifice, but it enabled us to speak to hundreds of people in the district. Maria exemplified the courage of so many pilgrims. “My life has been the way of the cross, of suffering,” she explained in Spanish. “I need you to help me bear it and work for citizenship.”

Along our journey, hundreds of people of faith welcomed us and listened to the stories of these immigrant families. On the final leg, we walked to the office of Rep. Paulsen and asked him to do the same. We celebrated with a Catholic Mass in the parking lot, delivered hundreds of letters, and – kneeling inside the office – prayed the rosary and sang. We planned to remain in the office until he met with us. How people in the office respond? They summoned the police and forced us to leave. We left in prayer, unable to risk more deportations and broken families.

When I look into the eyes of these pilgrims and witness their sacrifice for the common good, I see a bright future for our churches and for our country. There is a moral crisis, and these immigrants have the determination and courage to transform it. Members of Congress, and many of us who are citizens, have something to learn from these pilgrims. We need to follow their lead, face this moral crisis, and work together to pass a pathway to citizenship this year.

Ben Anderson, a Chanhassen native and a member of the Jesuit order, is an organizer with ISAIAH, a faith-based community organization in the Twin Cities.

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