On July 3, 2019, the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Agnes, in keeping with their mission of standing up for those who faith life and human dignity are threatened, issued a statement regarding the treatment of immigrants at the United States border with Mexico.
To read the full statement, click here.
The Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes and their Associates invite the public to join them in a prayer vigil in support of detained immigrants and children from 6-7 p.m. on Friday, July 12, 2019. Inspired by the Lights for Liberty events occurring throughout the country, the prayer service will take place in the Chapel of the Sisters of St. Agnes (CSA) Motherhouse, 320 County Road K, Fond du Lac, WI.
On Friday, July 12th, 2019, Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Detention Camps, will bring thousands of Americans to detention camps across the country, into the streets, and into their own front yards to protest the inhumane conditions faced by refugees. Official Lights for Liberty events will take place from 7-9 p.m. in ten cities throughout Wisconsin, including Wauwatosa and Appleton. Details of events can be found at lightsforliberty.org
The CSA prayer service from 6-7 p.m. will include readings, prayers for those in the detention camps and the government, and a candle lighting ceremony. Attendees are encouraged to take their LED candles home to display in their windows at 9 p.m. and on future days.
All are invited to attend the prayer service, regardless of their faith tradition, and no reservations are required. For more information, please call Chelsea Koenigs at 920-907-2300.
Read more about the Sisters’ experiences with asylum seekers.
Sister Ruth was interviewed about the event on WFDL on July 5, 2019. Listen to the recording here. (Skip to 1 minute and 26 seconds to go straight to Sister Ruth's portion of the recording.)
The June 2019 Dismas Ministry Newsletter featured an interview with Sister Patricia Weidman, CSA. Dismas Ministry typically works to provide spiritual resources to individuals in jail or prison. In this case, Sister Patricia hopes that those reading her interview understand that, while asylum seekers are being detained in a manner most commonly seen in prisons, they are, in fact, not convicted of any crimes.
To read the interview, click here.
On May 1, the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes (CSA) joined a coalition of over 100 organizations in sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) urging it to cease any targeting of activists, journalists, and lawyers based on their First Amendment-protected speech and associational activities. The coalition demanded that DHS address alarming reports of surveillance activity by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that jeopardizes First Amendment rights and access to legal counsel, and may violate the Privacy Act of 1974.
As we point out in the letter, ICE documented and disseminated lists of “Anti-Trump” protests in New York City. In addition, CBP allegedly targeted and created dossiers on activists, lawyers, and journalists working with and reporting on asylum seekers. First-hand accounts revealed a pattern of harassment including extended detentions and interrogations, electronic device searches at ports of entry, and denial of re-entry to Mexico.
In joining this coalition, CSA looks to help defend the human dignity of those that have been harassed or unlawfully targeted. The coalition demanded that DHS cease impermissible targeting, monitoring, and harassment of activists, journalists, and lawyers at the border, and disclose the policies, guidelines, and training materials that govern these activities. We are pleased that Congress is actively investigating both incidents, and that the DHS Investigator General has been tasked with reviewing CBP’s conduct. We join their efforts to ensure that our government agencies are held accountable for their actions.
In the closing months of 2018, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious articulated to its members the need for more volunteers at the McAllen, Texas Humanitarian Respite Center sponsored by Catholic Charities. Three members of the Sisters of St. Agnes, Patricia, Julie, and Clare, accepted the call and journeyed to Texas with Ms. Jeanne Kowalski from January 13-26, 2019. Sister Patricia Weidman shared her experiences with the sisters at Nazareth Court and Center during a visit there on April 26.
Sisters Clare and Julie Ann will share their first-hand experience of this border ministry with the general public on Wednesday, May 15 at 6:30 p.m. in Founders Hall at the Sisters of St. Agnes Motherhouse, 320 County Road K, Fond du Lac, WI and will be talking with Kate Archer Kent on the WPR Morning Show on Friday, May 3.
Sister Eileen Mahony continues to minister to asylum seekers in Tucson, Arizona and regularly shares updates of her experiences. Recently Sister Patricia Weidman shared her experiences at Nazareth Court and Center.
Updates from the U.S. Southern Border...
Today I helped Clare to organize and distribute men's clothing, all of which had been donated. I studied the vocabulary and expressions as if I were a department store clerk. 250 refugees arrived from Honduras. The adults wear a large ankle bracelet with a heavy battery so they can be located. I held a baby while the mother got a clean set of clothing. I held a second baby while the mother was in the shower. Hondurans are small; we are out of small pants but more donated clothing will arrive. One woman asked for prayer, so I prayed aloud with her, although brief, and she was grateful. The refugees are grateful and cooperative. I was delighted to meet Sister Norma, the administrator of Catholic Charities Rio Grande Valley. She seemed calm considering the holy chaos of the center.the volunteers and staff have an amazing energy and commitment.
The four of us are getting comfortable with the chaos that is appropriate here. We see an ebb and flow of tasks/ business that match the morning, the pre-bus afternoon, and the arrival of the buses. [At 3:30 each day] we wait for buses -- expecting 250+. All sections seem ready, resting and happy. We sit with other volunteers in the chairs to hold waiting-to-process line of refugees. We will rise and begin cheering when they enter the door. We will resume our tasks and prepare to feed the children. Eventually we will decide to go 'home' to the hotel. Our hearts say "Stay, this is ministry." Our minds say "We can go, they will be okay." Not sure when we will go home. We will come back tomorrow. Ah!!! A bus is here!
At Catholic charities Rio grande valley. Yesterday the staff and volunteers processed 278 refugees. Today 280 from Honduras. the workers have an amazing commitment to helping the families get food, shower, clothing, bus ticket quickly. They try to get refugees to the bus by the next day. We give them toiletries and a bag lunch. I sorted donated clothing while refugees were given one set of clothing for their journey. I practiced the vocabulary for clothing. We explain to the refugees that they need warm clothing. They don’t realize how cold the winter weather is up north. The refugees are young parents with young children. I asked a young pregnant woman how she traveled. She guardedly admitted the she rode on the roof of the train, la bestia, the beast. I rode with Jim to deliver a father and daughter to the bus terminal. The ticket agent and driver are bilingual and helpful. The father and daughter will arrive in Tennessee by morning. I can’t imagine their trauma.
Sisters Clare, Patricia and Julie Ann are at the Catholic Charities Respite Center at the US southern border. . . We were hoping to be helpful and we were. I helped to prepare baggies of toiletries, make sandwiches, and pack lunches for refugees to take on the bus. Four busloads of refugees arrived from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Staff processed the adults while volunteers helped serve soup and salad, provide a change of clothing, a shower, and a mat. I took children by the hand to the dining area and they followed me trustingly. I got so chocked up that I could barely breathe. Children ran out to the yard and played while the parents were processed. Young families, some mothers were breast feeding. A doctor and health care professionals provide limited medical care. People want refugees to be admitted. Workers are needed in farms, restaurants, and hotels. I gave thanks that I am here.
The weekend of November 16-18,2018 brought much solidarity and peacebuilding as I walked with the young and old, the Mexican people, those from Central American people, United States people. It was a time to confront the evil policies that cause division, hatred and violence. It was a time not to remain silent and to walk the walk and talk the talk of transformation. As I walked from the Americana Hotel in Nogalas, AZ to the border wall and crossed into Mexico, I did not walk alone- I walked with a Notre Dame Sister and a volunteer that I’ve ministered with in Douglas, AZ/Agua Prieta, Mexico into the welcoming community of Nogalas, Mexico. The spirit of the Mexican people and bienvenido was the gift. A stage was set and people from the School of the America Watch spoke and gave much insight ‘’into the stances they have taken for many years and continue to do so. The organizers than invited the people to speak of experiences of pain and suffering and the support they have received from so many. Some especially touching stories included the pain a woman suffered as the marines from Mexico invaded her home, threatened her with death and kidnapped her husband in March, 2018. Another spoke of the disappearance of her son and how she continues to look for him; this mother continues to weep for her son. Then there were stories of U.S. veterans who have been deported and separated from family and friends. The stories touched my soul and the people shared the hope that life will become better. It took 2 hours to pass through customs into the United States. The conferences in the afternoon connected me with other advocates for change and brought more stories of those who continue to minister for those in borderland communities in Arizona and Texas. What a wonderful group of ministers. I do not want to forget that there were those from many parts of the United States, Mexico, and Central America. And this was Saturday, November 17.
On Sunday, the experience was on the U.S. side of the border wall and pulled at the heart strings of all of those who have died from the early 1980’s on. It was a litany that lasted over an hour and ended in a gravesite that honored the people and those who continue to die. On the U.S. side, unlike former years we were forbidden to be near the wall. A large iron built fence prevented us from touching others on the Mexican Side. Also wire prevented the human connection of touch. In spite of all of this we found ways to make our voices heard. The experience brought young and older people to take a risk and use the space between the iron built fence and the wall to depict a cemetery of those who have died and those who will die. This was a risk that people took; there was a possibility of arrest. Border Patrol did not interfere.
There is much more to tell and I will be in Fond du Lac during the month of December if anyone wants to hear more.
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is deeply troubled by President Trump’s continued denigration of those fleeing untenable situations in their home countries. These are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers who have been forced from their homes by unimaginable violence and insecurity; runaway corruption; and droughts and floods linked to climate change. These are women and girls fleeing intolerable situations of domestic violence. These are young men and women who have no access to quality education and no hope of economic opportunity.
These are courageous people who have rejected cultures of corruption and exploitation. They are traveling the same road trod by our forbearers who fled tyranny and violence in search of the American dream. They are people of hope and promise who only want the opportunity to contribute their toil and talent to this nation.
We reject the president’s rhetoric of fear and policy of division that poisons our politics. We choose instead to embrace a dream for America that is filled with hope for a nation united in service of the common good. We stand with Pope Francis who calls us to “promote the dignity of all our brothers and sisters, particularly the poor and the excluded of society, those who are abandoned, immigrants and those who suffer violence and human trafficking.
We urge the administration to manage refugee arrivals humanely and in a manner that respects their dignity and rights under US and international law and to:
- Allow migrants to approach our border and ask for protection in the United States and to be admitted for processing in a timely manner.
- Ensure that asylum seekers have access to legal counsel and receive a fair resolution of their claim.
- Guarantee that parents and children stay together after they are apprehended. Holding families indefinitely in detention or detaining parents while releasing their children violates the values of this nation and the standards set forth in the Flores settlement.
- Eschew detention of those awaiting adjudication of their asylum petitions in favor of alternatives that are more humane and more cost efficient.
- Direct Homeland Security to cooperate with faith-based and humanitarian organizations who are prepared to assist asylum-seekers.
The United States has a long and proud history of welcoming immigrants and sheltering refugees. Women religious have been blessed to be able to accompany and serve migrant communities across this country for a very long time. We will continue to welcome them as our national history demands and our faith requires.
LCWR is an association of leaders of congregations of Catholic sisters in the United States. The conference has nearly 1350 members, who represent more than 45,600 women religious in the United States. Founded in 1956, LCWR assists its members to carry out their service of leadership to further the mission of the Gospel in today’s world.