Bishop Perez celebrates Mass for Justice July 8 at Sacred Heart Chapel in Lorain
“Our eyes are on the Lord awaiting his mercy.”
That psalm was read at Mass on July 8 as hundreds of people gathered at Sacred Heart Chapel in Lorain to pray for undocumented people across the country who are separated from their families. Many are either facing deportation orders or already were deported, while others are concerned that they could be caught up in the federal government’s more aggressive immigration policies.
“Our hearts go out to them,” said Bishop Nelson Perez, who celebrated the Mass for Justice. The bishop has called the immigration system broken and urged the faithful to pray for those impacted by the current policies.
The church was filled and many people were in overflow seating. Father Bill Thaden, Sacred Heart pastor, and Father Bob Wenz, a retired diocesan priest, were concelebrants. Both priests are former staff members of the diocesan mission in El Salvador. Several deacons from around the diocese also attended the liturgy, as well as a group of Mercedarian sisters. The Mass was celebrated primarily in Spanish.
The bishop told the congregation that Pope Francis frequently uses two words – encounter and accompany. “Our undocumented brothers and sisters are suffering right now,” he said, noting that the same Church that was present for them in their native countries is here now to encounter and accompany them.
“They are embraced by that same Church,” he said, and agencies like Catholic Charities also are there to encounter and accompany them. “For the Church, there are no borders.”
The bishop said immigrants come here for many reasons, with many seeking safety and a better life for their families. “This has always been a welcoming place,” he said, adding that we must rely on prayer and our faith for strength.
In the Diocese of Cleveland, about 100 parish companions were trained during the past several months to assist individuals and families who have deportation orders. Those companions were invited to attend the Mass and received a blessing from the bishop, as well as a holy card with a picture of a migrant family that represents a modern version of the Holy Family. On the back is a blessing for migrants and a commissioning of the parish companions.
“You are our brothers and sisters. We accompany you on this journey. We welcome you to our house,” reads the blessing for migrants.
The parish companion commissioning reads, “To accompany you along the way, to listen with the heart. To love, support and pray for and with you.”
Bishop Perez said we don’t have the power to change the laws, acknowledging that can be frustrating.
“We don’t like it when people tell us we’re wrong – even if we know it. Every country has the right to protect its borders, but we need to use discretion,” he said, adding, “The voice of the people is rising and it’s a good voice.”
He asked the congregation to pray for those who are separated from their families that they may be reunited quickly and that the immigration system can be fixed. He said as Catholics, we use the most powerful prayer of the Lord in the celebration of the Eucharist.
“When things happen in your life that you can’t handle, put them in the ‘God will handle box’ and God will – in his time – handle them. Our hearts go out to the suffering people. We need to put them in our ‘God will handle box,’” he said.
The parish companions are “ministers of compassion and assistance,” the bishop said. They serve in a ministry of charity, offering support to those facing deportation and ensuring that those left behind – family members and children – have someone to help and care for them.
“Strengthen them in mind, body and spirit so those they accompany may be drawn more fully to Christ,” he said during the commissioning.
The bishop thanked Sister Rita Mary Harwood, who heads the diocesan Parish Life Office, Camille Gill, managing attorney for Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland, Migration and Refugee Services Office, and others who helped train and support the parish companions.
“We walk today with all migrants and we pray that all migrant families will be reunited and find what they seek,” Bishop Perez said. “We also pray that they will be treated with compassion and care and will be seen as the human face of God.”