By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
MOUNT PLEASANT — Standing in the sanctuary of St. Alphonsus Catholic Church before Mass on Mother’s Day, Bishop Thomas Zinkula told families impacted by a May 9 immigration raid that the Catholic Church loves them and cares about their well-being.
“I wanted to be present to them,” the bishop told The Catholic Messenger afterwards. He acknowledged the fear of immigrant families in the aftermath of the raid in which 32 men were arrested at the Midwest Precast Concrete Facility for alleged immigration violations. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted the raid, which comes less than seven months after the agency’s deputy director issued a directive calling for increased worksite enforcement investigations, according to ICE’s website.
But Bishop Zinkula also reminded the gathering of around 125 Hispanics and Anglos at the Spanish-language Mass that the phrase “Do not be afraid” (or “Have no fear!”) appears in the Bible 365 times. The bishop said that “as a faith community, we support one another.”
He presided at Mass and stayed afterwards to hear the stories of a teenager, a university student and a young mother, each of whom had a family member taken away in the raid. Father Bernie Weir and Father Paul Connolly served as concelebrants for the Mass. Fr. Connolly is pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish-Mount Pleasant and Fr. Weir, pastor of St. James Parish-Washington, celebrates the Spanish-language Mass at the Mount Pleasant church the second Sunday of each month.
Fr. Weir’s homily (that Sunday was the Feast of the Ascension) focused on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. Fr. Weir emphasized the references to “one body and one Spirit,” “one hope,” “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Fr. Weir said he told the gathering, “We are one body, in pain right now, and we need to make sure that we take care of the body; we are all one.” Because the raid happened just three days before the 10th anniversary of a massive immigration raid in Postville, Iowa, immigrant families were concerned about how they would be treated. They worried about not being able to locate their apprehended family members because of the way the immigration system works, Fr. Weir said. They were concerned about how they were going to pay for bond and for lawyers. Would their family member be sent to jail?
“Whether they were in the country legally or illegally, we still have to deal with the aftermath,” Fr. Connolly said. He recalled the story of the Good Samaritan, who gave aid to a traveler who had been robbed, beaten and left along the roadside. Fr. Connolly said he is reminded of the plight of the Holy Family who had to flee from their native land.
What matters today is that mothers with children are now without their breadwinner, and “they need food, shelter and clothing,” Fr Connolly said. St. Alphonsus Parish is collaborating with other churches in Mount Pleasant to provide support for the impacted families. First Presbyterian Church serves as the focal point for distribution of food, clothing and other necessities and monetary donations to help pay rent and utility bills, among other things.
“We’re going to take a second collection next week,” Fr. Connolly said. He reminded his parish that the impacted families’ struggles will continue. “It’s going to be a long-term thing.” He’s had calls from Postville offering prayers. Even 10 years later, that community is still dealing with the aftermath of the 2008 immigration raid in which 389 workers were arrested, Fr. Connolly was told. Fr. Weir told his parish a second collection will be held this Sunday and “we’ll do it in two months and every two months after that until it’s no longer needed.”
Diocesan Social Action Director Kent Ferris, who attended the Mass in Mount Pleasant, was moved by the blessing that Bishop Zinkula bestowed on all mothers present. “That was very poignant because you had not only Hispanic mothers but Caucasian mothers joining together as all in attendance were able recognize the contributions these mothers have made to their families,” Ferris said. “The reverence and respect shown for mothers is independent of where they have come from or where they find themselves in that particular moment.”
After Mass, several individuals shared their stories. The first speaker was a 15-year-old who raced from school to home the day of the raid to gather his step-father’s documentation and present it to ICE officers. “They wouldn’t hear of it,” Ferris said. “This young man has been put in the role of providing translation and expressing concerns for the needs of the family. He’s incredibly mature, but only 15 years old.”
A student at the University of Iowa spoke next. She was at school preparing for finals when she learned that her father had been picked up in an immigration raid. The student left school to be with her mother and younger siblings. She spoke at the church about how much her father had sacrificed so that she could attend the university and that he placed such great importance on education, Ferris said. The university assured the student that she could make up her finals.
Finally, a young mother with a baby and a 3-year-old spoke about her experience of having her husband detained by ICE, for the second time. She referred to passages from Scripture read during Mass and how she takes sustenance from them and from the support of friends and community. “She said, ‘My faith will help me. God will help us,’” Ferris recalled.
“It was good for me to hear their stories,” Bishop Zinkula said. “I feel closer to the situation; it puts a human face on it. It makes me more convinced, more passionate about the need to fix our outdated immigration system.”
Statement from Bishop Thomas Zinkula on ICE Raid on May 9
The raid at the Midwest Precast Concrete facility in Mount Pleasant by U.S. Immigration and Customs enforcement officers provides a reminder that our country’s immigration program is still broken.
The escalation of immigration detentions only serves to separate families and enflame fear and panic in our communities. We are resolved in our commitment to comprehensive, compassionate and common sense immigration reform for all those who seek safety that can be found in our country, a country that is at risk of losing its moral conscience.
The Diocese of Davenport is doing what it can – spiritually, emotionally, legally and financially – to support those who are suffering as a result of the raid. On May 12 we observed the 10 year anniversary of the immigration raid in Postville, Iowa.
More than 300 individuals were detained for immigration violations at a meat‐packing plant, the largest raid of its kind in state history. Ten years with no lessons learned, nor mercy or justice for families who flee from their homeland to escape poverty and violence.