Rally organizers seek help for children fleeing from Central America
By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Behind a simulated border fence with painfully real barbed wire, speakers told the stories of children, past and present, fleeing from their homelands because of poverty, gang violence or war. The Irish Memorial, which pays tribute to 19th century immigrants, served as a backdrop for the Aug. 17 “Love Without Borders” rally in downtown Davenport.
Organizers hoped the nearly 200 participants would be inspired to take action on behalf of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children seeking refuge in the U.S. Many in the audience, holding handmade or professionally produced posters expressing support for the children, responded enthusiastically to calls for justice. One man, however, carried a bright blue poster that read “Illegal, Illegal, Illegal. Send ‘em back.”
Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba called on participants to contact Congress to work for justice in Central America while alleviating the present crisis involving the unaccompanied children.
The mayor noted that potential sites for hosting children have been forwarded to appropriate federal officials, volunteers who want to help have been identified, and mayors or their staff members in 75 cities, including Davenport, have participated in conference calls with the White House on this issue.
Other speakers, representing Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Unitarians and Muslims, underscored their faiths’ collective commitment to put love into action. “Merciful Lord, relieve the sufferings of the children seeking refuge in this country from oppression and violence in their homelands,” Bishop Martin Amos said in the opening prayer, which he read in both English and Spanish. “In your mercy, strengthen them in their weakness with signs of your love in the compassionate care they receive as strangers in this land.…”
Margie Mejia-Caraballo, who chairs the immigration committee of Quad Cities Interfaith, translated the other speakers’ comments and stories into Spanish. Another individual provided sign language translation.
The storytelling began with the experiences of an Irish immigrant, Catherine, followed by those of Alice, who participated in a rescue mission for Jewish children in Nazi-occupied Europe. Next, stories were told of children fleeing from Central America.
Father Jim Vrba, the new pastor of St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf, told the story of 17-year-old Alfonso of El Salvador. He read in part: “… The gang told me that if I returned to school, I wouldn’t make it home alive. The gang had killed two kids I went to school with, and I thought I might be the next one … If I hadn’t had these problems, I wouldn’t have come here.”
After each story, the Rev. Rich Hendricks of Metro Community Church Quad Cities led the gathering in a chorus of “Let the children speak!” He brought area clergy together to take action on an issue which has Congress at loggerheads and Americans divided about what to do with unaccompanied, undocumented children entering the U.S.
Lisa Killinger, representing the Muslim Community of the Quad Cities in Bettendorf, identified actions steps participants could take, such as: sending postcards (available at the rally) to U.S. senators and representatives “to let them know you care and want them to help,” donating time or money to efforts on behalf of unaccompanied children; and praying.
In his closing prayer, Rev. Jay Wolin of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities, Davenport, prayed for love in people’s hearts and actions.
“It takes a village,” observed Rev. Hendricks, who, while nursing a wound from taking down barbed wire, added that he was “impressed at the number of people who turned out to stand in the hot sun and hear the children’s stories.”
“I can’t imagine not wanting to take care of children. I can’t think of something more important. Borders are more important than kids?” asked Gale Francione, a member of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. She thinks about refugees around the world and wonders why the U.S. isn’t willing to take in refugees as well. “I don’t speak enough Spanish to sponsor a child, but I imagine the possibilities of all kinds of ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’ and ‘grandparents’ who could support the families adopting.”
Sue Witte, an associate of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary, Davenport, and member of the Unitarian congregation, wants to help in whatever way she can and also plans to write letters to Congress to advocate on behalf of the children.
Melissa Steinke of St. John Vianney Parish, Bettendorf, said she’s been asking herself: “So how do we help the thousands of children crossing the border? I can’t imagine living in Texas and dealing with the subsequent problems. But our God calls us to love like him.”