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700 gather with archbishop for special immigration Mass

new 01 Immigration PAGEArchbishop Cordileone blesses a baby March 11 after a special immigration Mass at St. Peter Church in San Francisco. (Photo by Dennis Callahan/Catholic San Francisco)

March 23, 2017
Christina Gray

Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone celebrated a special immigration Mass before 700 congregants at St. Peter Church in the Mission District on March 11 in response to requests from community members for his pastoral presence during a time of uncertainty.

More than a dozen priests from parishes throughout the archdiocese took part in the bilingual Mass honoring the dignity of immigrants and refugees. St. Peter pastor Father Moises Agudo concelebrated.

After the Mass, a team of volunteers from eight local nonprofits offered a “know your rights” forum in the parish school gym.

In his homily on the day’s readings, the archbishop referred to Moses’ words to the Israelites in their exodus out of Egypt to the Promised Land.

“Moses tells them to follow the law of the Lord and to obey his commandments,” he said. “Because whoever follows the law of the Lord will have nothing to fear. The people then had lots to fear. They were in the desert for 40 years.”

Lorena Melgarejo, parish organizer for the archdiocese’s Office of Human Life and Dignity, said that when she asked the anxious community what people needed most from the local church, the archbishop’s presence was at the top of the list.

“That really showed the people here the archbishop’s concern for the Hispanic community,” said Mercy Sister Marian Rose Power, who has long served at St. Peter School. With the archbishop’s presence, the availability of lawyers to speak with them, a full church of English and Spanish-speaking people together, “in some respects I could see their fears subside a little after seeing people walking side-by-side with them,” she said.

President Donald Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order on border security and immigration enforcement empowered the Department of Homeland Security to “take all appropriate actions to ensure the detention of aliens apprehended for violations of immigration law.”

James Schwab, a spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told Catholic San Francisco that local action is “targeted and lead-driven, prioritizing individuals who pose a risk to our communities,” such as known street gang members, child sex offenders, and deportable foreign nationals with significant drug trafficking convictions. Schwab noted that, “To that end, ICE’s routine immigration enforcement actions are ongoing and we make arrests every day.”

Francisco Gonzalez, director of refugee and immigrant services for Catholic Charities in the archdiocese, said he had not personally heard of local ICE raids, but “it’s not a matter of if, but when.” He is helping prepare families for the inevitability of a member having to leave unexpectedly.

“My take on it is that they are not focusing on the sanctuary cities yet,” he said. “We try not to send people to a place of fear. They are in the best possible place – California of all states and San Francisco of all cities.”

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