Women religious tackle immigration at assembly

By Sr. Marla Clercx, ANG | For The Compass | August 28, 2013

LCWR gathering attracts more than 800 religious sisters to discuss social justice issues

ORLANDO, Fla. — “Our country is broken because we can’t make a decision on comprehensive immigration reform,” stated Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK (a national Catholic social justice lobby), in an interview at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) national assembly. The four-day conference attracted about 825 religious sisters.

Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a national Catholic social justice lobby, said citizens should contact elected leaders and encourage them to vote for immigration reform. (Sr. Marla Clerx, ANG| For The Compass)
Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a national Catholic social justice lobby, said citizens should contact elected leaders and encourage them to vote for immigration reform. (Sr. Marla Clercx, ANG| For The Compass)

LCWR represents nearly 57,000 or 80 percent of the women religious in the United States. The annual conference is held to assist its members in carrying out their service of leadership, to foster dialog and collaboration among religious congregations within the church, and to develop models for addressing current social justice concerns.

Immigration reform is one of the issues that is forefront in the work of LCWR. In addition to having already taken a corporate stance in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, the group encourages people to contact their elected representatives. A bill has already passed the Senate and now awaits the House’s return from their summer recess Sept. 9.

When asked what needs to be done to move the process of immigration reform along, Sr. Simone, founder of the “Nuns on the Bus” tour, stated, “Our senators and representatives need to stay at the table. It’s the way our government works, the way we do our business. When they aren’t willing to stay at the table and be in conversation, the process stalls.”

Sr. Simone also encourages people to contact their representatives during this recess. “They are at home in their districts, so now is the time to contact them,” she said. “Call them, send a message, visit their district office. They are bound to listen. They really do care about what their constituents think.”

Part of that brokenness that Sr. Simone mentioned was expressed by a panel of young people from the Hope Conference Center, a service learning community dedicated to the empowerment of Central Florida’s immigrant and working poor communities. They shared personal stories of having their parents deported, of excelling in high school only to realize their dream of attending college was impossible because they did not have a Social Security number, and of being unable to obtain a driver’s license.

One poignant story was shared by Evelyn. Her parents came to the United States on a visa when she was just 3 years old. Her father is a citizen; her mother, a teacher of autistic children, was deported to Colombia in 2001 for driving without a license. Earlier this year, Evelyn was able to visit her mother when arrangements were made for a border visit. In an emotion-filled voice, she spoke of “every day trying to hold on to the feeling of what it meant to touch my mom again, even if it was through a fence.”

Immigration reform is also a current concern for areas throughout the Diocese of Green Bay. Assistance is being provided through diocesan agencies such as Catholic Charities, as well as at the parish and personal levels.

One of the attendees at the LCWR conference was Sr. Nancy Langlois, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross (otherwise known as the Bay Settlement sisters). She talked about the ongoing ways her community has always been involved in immigration concerns.

“Our community was founded in 1868, formed to work with Belgium immigrants,” she said. “When I entered the community in the 1950s, we were ministering to migrant workers in Oconto County. It is an outreach we have continued to Hmong settlers, Hispanic immigrants and most recently the Somali refugees.”

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