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Vicar General Keynote Speaker at Migration Week Vigil

This is National Migration Week 2019, January 6 - 12. For nearly a half century, the Catholic Church in the United States has celebrated National Migration Week, which provides an opportunity for the Church to highlight the presence and situation of immigrants, refugees, victims, and survivors of human trafficking. The week serves as a time for both prayer and action in support of immigrants and refugees.

The theme for this year’s celebration – “Building Communities of Welcome” – emphasizes our responsibility and opportunity as Catholics to engage and welcome newcomers on their arrival and help to ease their transition into a new life here in the United States. Welcoming communities do not emerge by chance but are established through the hard work and conviction of people on the ground through direct service, shared experience and faith, advocacy, and institution building

As part of its National Migration Week advocacy and action the Diocese of Las Vegas advanced the theme of welcoming communities to, “Love Thy Neighbor” -- a commandment in every major religion -- as the theme of the vigil in support of refugees, migrants and pilgrims held Sunday, January 6 from 2 to 3 p.m. Hosted at the Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer, organized with the Southern Nevada Faith Community Coalition in response to the treatment of refugees and migrants at our borders and within our country, the vigil was a public witness in prayerful support of our neighbors as a welcoming community. The Very Rev. Robert Stoeckig, Vicar General of the Diocese of Las Vegas; Nationally known Dreamer Astrid Silva; Culinary Leader Geoconda Arguello-Kline; Rabbi Malcolm Cohen of Temple Sinai; Ms. Fahima Khalaf from the Muslim community; and Pastor Ralph Williamson of the First AME Church of Las Vegas inspired the gathering with their commitment welcoming the stranger and to love our neighbors. Music was provided by singer-songwriter Phil Esser music director at St. Andrew Catholic Community, the First AME Gospel Choir and Cantorial Soloist Kate Golodner. Fr. Robert Stoeckig’s keynote address:

I realize that I have thought a lot about feet lately. Feet have often been on my mind. Last September I was privileged to attend the ordination of Bishop Hutterer as Lutheran Bishop of the Grand Canyon Synod. The pastor who preached that day told his story have having been in the dentist’s chair getting impressions taken of his teeth when he suddenly felt like he couldn’t breathe. He gasped, “I can’t breathe,” and his dentist responded, “Lift up your feet.” He thought he hadn’t been heard, so he gasped louder that he couldn’t breathe, and once again the reply came back louder, lift up your feet. He said, “Not feet, breath,” and once again he was told to lift his feet. Finally, out of frustration he did that and suddenly, felt like he could breathe again. It turns out that when you are anxious and focused on something that is not right, he said, doing something else distracts you enough to be able to overcome the obstacle you feel is in front of you. So today, in the face of what seems like an intractable problem, I offer that image of lifting up our feet.

I was reminded of that image just before Christmas when I saw a family shopping for new shoes for their three children. The youngest, who looked about three years old, couldn’t get the idea of what it took for the sales person to fit him and his parents had to keep reminding him to lift his feet. Lift up your feet. So, take a moment now together and do that—lift up your feet!

I have been thinking about feet much different from my own—a friend in the hospital rehabbing after a fall whose feet can’t hold his body for him to stand up. Or those feet scarred from their journey: like the man from Guatemala I met in Mexico a few years ago whose dry misshapen, hard-calloused feet have never found shoes to be a comfort; the torn shoes of a young Mexican girl whose family had tried to cross the desert with her because they could no longer earn a living to feed themselves in their village; the feet of migrants crossing from the US into Canada, because there was no room for them here--in December cold--which were covered in old boots or even just old sneakers. In the -10 degree weather, I wondered how many of them had suffered frost bite. Those feet that have carried their child’s body hundreds of miles in search of a dream that life can be better. Old people’s feet, Poor people’s feet; Feet not made for the kind of walking that they have to do.

In addition to feet, I have been thinking about memory. I am struck with how quickly we forget who we are and where we came from. Consider the definition of amnesia: not the loss of memory exactly, but the forgetting of one's identity. That’s part of what is important for us as church. The Church remembers. The memory of the Church, however, is not a compilation of history—names, places, dates— but of identity. When the Church remembers, it re-appropriates its identity. And I think we need to remember in that way today to get past the diatribe and polarization around the issue of immigration. In October I had the privilege of travelling to Ireland, and as I did, the memory of stories of my great grandparents flooded my imagination at almost every turn in the road. It is part of who I am, so being there helped me to re-appropriate that part of my identity.

In April 1788, as the Constitution was being debated and ratified by the states, President George Washington sent a letter to a persecuted Dutch preacher, inviting him to emigrate with his flock, saying, “I had always hoped that this land might become a safe & agreeable asylum to the virtuous & persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong,” to “settle themselves in comfort, freedom and ease in some corner of the vast regions of America.”

Washington repeated this hope a month later in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, describing how their new nation “promises to afford a capacious asylum for the poor & persecuted of the Earth.” His talk of asylum continued during his presidency. In a 1795 proclamation, Washington asked Americans to pray to the Almighty to “render this Country more and more a safe and propitious asylum for the unfortunate of other countries.” This is our story, this is our identity, but so often we have had amnesia and forgotten who we are.

The poet Maya Angelou says, "You have been paid for at a distant place. The ancestors remind us, despite the history of pain. . . We are a going-on people who will rise again.” Washington’s words seem a distant place indeed from the place from where we find ourselves today. So distant that it seems to paralyze us from acting to change it. So today I say it is time to lift up your feet!

Por cerca de medio siglo, la Iglesia Católica en los Estados Unidos ha celebrado la Semana Nacional de la Migración, la cual le brinda a la Iglesia una oportunidad para reflexionar sobre las circunstancias que enfrentan las personas migrantes, incluyendo a los inmigrantes, refugiados, niños y víctimas y sobrevivientes de la trata de personas. For nearly a half century, the Catholic Church in the United States has celebrated National Migration Week, which is an opportunity for the Church to reflect on the circumstances confronting migrants, including immigrants, refugees, children, and victims and survivors of human trafficking.

This celebration is meant to remind us to lift up our feet. We must lift up our feet together to support humane immigration reform, especially as our broken system separates families and denies due process. It is time to lift up our feet together to protect refugees who flee homelands because of violence or because they cannot feed their families.

It is time to lift up our feet to stand with and for children and families from Central America. In recent years many have come even as unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Most are felling grave, life-threatening violence and gang recruitment and are seeking to reunify with family in the United States. It is time to lift up our feet and act on their behalf.

It is time to lift up our feet and build an immigration system that affords due process protections, honors human dignity and minimizes the use of immigrant detection—particularly for the most vulnerable populations such as families, children and torture survivors. And it is time to lift up our feet and work to prevent human trafficking and provide protection and healing for trafficking survivors.

Our sister Astrid has lifted up her feet to stand again and again to remind us of the plight of Dreamers like her and it is time to lift up our feet to work for a just solution of DACA recipients—to stand with her.

Pope Francis invites us to be part of a culture of encounter as we welcome, protect, integrate and promote immigrants and refugees in our midst. La dura situación de los refugiados siempre ha estado present. Jesús fue un refugiado, en Su Nombre trabajamos para ellos.

This weekend we read the story from the Gospel of Matthew about the foreign visitors we call magi or wise men coming to visit the newborn Jesus. That story continues to recount how Jesus’ parents had to flee with him to a foreign land in order to keep him from being killed by the despot king Herod. These foreign visitors get word in a dream not to tell Herod where they found him, but to go home by another way. The story reminds us to lift up our feet to stand in defense of migrants and refugees and to work for a system in which Dreamers will have a place free from the trauma and worry of unresolved status.

Immigrants who come to the United States, and particularly those who are undocumented, are a particularly vulnerable population who have often fled violence and persecution and are often seeking safety, family reunification, and economic opportunity. Given the trauma many have endured, community efforts to accompany, assist, and stand in solidarity are vital. Our moral tradition calls on all people of faith and goodwill to lift up our feet and to stand up in defense of life and human dignity-regardless of one’s immigration status; it is a fundamental calling for us as Catholics and for most people of faith.

Archbishop Gomez of Los Angles said it this way: “I feel like our great country has lost its way on this issue of immigration. In my opinion,” he said, “immigration is the human rights test of our generation.”

Immigration is a difficult issue and it sometimes becomes an abstract issue. So once again, I invite you to think about feet. Lift your feet and encourage those around you to lift their feet. Think of all those feet struggling to find a place in our American dream. Think about those feet of worried parents who cannot feed their families in their homelands. Think about the worn and weary feet on a journey to a place they do not know in order to escape the daily threat of violence or persecution.

¡Somos familia! Immigrants are our family. We say, “En las buenas y en las malas.” In the good times and in the bad. We always stay together. But to stay together requires us to use our feet and our voices. First to stand with those who need us and to speak for those who do not have a voice, then, to advocate for a just and humane system worthy of Washington’s dream for our nation. And, as people of faith, to never forget our story filled with migration and images of refugees.

It is possible, it is necessary, it is our calling.

Lift up your feet. Open your heart. Raise your voice!

The AME Gospel Choir

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