TACOMA – On a dead-end street outside the Northwest Detention Center, an estimated 300 people attended a Mass marking the culmination of the Archdiocese of Seattle’s Walking and Witnessing pilgrimage to show solidarity with immigrant families.
“This gives me hope that we can do something,” said Jerry Spatz, who walked the first leg of the pilgrimage from his parish, Church of the Assumption in Bellingham, on April 29 and joined the final leg May 11 from Tacoma’s Bellarmine Preparatory School to the detention center.
Spatz was inspired to walk “out of compassion and empathy for what immigrants are going through. I think our country’s traditions are better than this.”
Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo celebrated Mass from an altar atop a trailer behind a pickup truck. Four large wooden crosses — red, black, white and yellow, representing the four corners of the archdiocese, and carried during the pilgrimage — came together at the altar.
Participants carry crosses representing different regions of the Archdiocese of Seattle during the final leg of the Walking and Witnessing pilgrimage in solidarity with immigrant families May 11. Photo: Stephen Brashear
“Even more than teachers, in the world today we need witnesses,” Bishop Elizondo told those gathered. “Thank you for being seen.”
“We, as citizens of this wonderful country and citizens of the heavenly land, want to send a message to all our brothers and sisters inside this facility … they are not abandoned,” Bishop Elizondo added in his homily.
The 13-day prayer walk drew an estimated 1,000 pilgrims as it traveled from parish to parish, according Erin Maguire, a network builder for Catholic Community Services of Western Washington. CCS sponsored the pilgrimage along with the Archdiocese of Seattle, the Washington State Catholic Conference and the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center.
The pilgrimage was meant to be “a prayerful walk that provided a peaceful journey, prayerful moments and togetherness as people who pray for all immigrant families,” said Mary Escobar Wahl, a CCS network builder for the Northwest region, in an email.
The pilgrimage began at three points: Bellingham, Vancouver and Kirkland, before converging at Bellarmine Prep for the final leg of the journey. People were welcome to walk part or all of the three pilgrimage routes; between 19 and 166 pilgrims walked each day, Maguire said. Hundreds of others — from 71 parishes and several schools — supported the walkers with meals, prayer, sleeping space and educational programs.
Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo walks with pilgrims May 11 from Tacoma’s Bellarmine Preparatory School to the Northwest Detention Center. Photo: Stephen Brashear
“As the walkers moved along the streets, we had people who showed support, and others who did not support helping immigrants,” Escobar Wahl wrote, “but for the most part, people were incredibly kind to all the walkers. It was in the conversations that we learned the most.”
Called by faith to speak up
As participants arrived for Mass, a young mother carrying her 8-month-old son in a bassinet emerged from the detention center. The woman, a U.S. citizen, said she had been visiting the baby’s 29-year-old father, who came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 10 but remains undocumented.
“I come anytime I can, whenever I’m not working,” the mother said. “We were talking about getting married, but now this…”
According to the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, the Northwest Detention Center has a capacity of 1,575 people, making it one of the largest immigration detention centers in the country.
“So many people think it’s all at the border, but it’s right behind us,” said Mary Ellen Haley, a member of St. Therese Parish in Seattle who attended the Mass. “We hope the people in there know we’re out here and they know people are concerned and showing up.”
Pilgrims hold hands during Mass celebrated outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma May 11. Photo: Stephen Brashear
Another person who showed up was Andrea Mendoza, social outreach and advocacy coordinator at St. John the Baptist Parish in Covington.
“It’s something we’re called to do as people of faith, to speak up and witness to what’s going on,” said Mendoza, who joined the pilgrimage May 9 and again on May 10, when she walked with her father.
“This is personal to me,” Mendoza said. “My parents are immigrants.” They came to the U.S. from Mexico in the 1980s and were granted amnesty, she said, but other family members have not been as fortunate.
The church’s position on migration respects the rights of people to migrate to support themselves and their families and the rights of nations to control their borders, and calls for respect for the human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants. (See box for more details.)
After the Mass, organizers handed out resource sheets (see box) and encouraged participants to connect with Catholic agencies working to meet the needs of immigrant families.
“Rather than being the end of the pilgrimage, we hope this will launch us into action to reach out to our immigrant brothers and sisters,” Joe Cotton, the archdiocese’s director of pastoral care, told the crowd.
“We will keep on walking for as long as needed,” Bishop Elizondo said in his homily, “to finally reach a place where everybody enjoys the freedom, joy, love and peace, as all members of this precious human family deserve.” Photo: Stephen Brashear
“We will keep on walking for as long as needed,” Bishop Elizondo said in his homily, “to finally reach a place where everybody enjoys the freedom, joy, love and peace, as all members of this precious human family deserve.”
Northwest Catholic staff contributed to this report.
Immigration events and resources
Sharing the Journey: Third Annual Catholic Immigration Summit – June 8, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Seattle
Justice for Immigrants – information, talking points, prayers and legislative action alerts
Washington State Catholic Conference – information about local programs to help immigrants in Western Washington
Archdiocese of Seattle Immigrant and Refugee Ministry – statements, events, advocacy and other resources
Catholic principles of migration
The church’s position on migration is rooted in the Gospel and the rich tradition of Catholic social teaching. Five principles to help formulate migration-related policy were outlined in “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope,” a joint pastoral letter of the Catholic bishops of the United States and Mexico:
- Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland. All persons have the right to find in their own countries the economic, political, and social opportunities to live in dignity and achieve a full life through the use of their God-given gifts. In this context, work that provides a just, living wage is a basic human need.
- Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families. The church recognizes that all the goods of the earth belong to all people. When persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right.
- Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders. The church recognizes the right of sovereign nations to control their territories, but rejects such control when it is exerted merely for the purpose of acquiring additional wealth. More-powerful economic nations, which have the ability to protect and feed their residents, have a strong obligation to accommodate migration flows.
- Refugees and asylum-seekers should be afforded protection. Those who flee wars and persecution should be protected by the global community. This requires, at a minimum, that migrants have a right to claim refugee status without incarceration and to have their claims fully considered by a competent authority.
- The human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected. Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity that should be respected. Often they are subject to punitive laws and harsh treatment by enforcement officers from both receiving and transit countries. Government policies that respect the basic human rights of the undocumented are necessary.