Written by Pete Sanchez
At Vineland’s Divine Mercy Parish, persistent rain couldn’t extinguish the fire blazing from torches and hearts last Sunday as the Hispanic faithful of South Jersey “shared the journey” with their immigrant brothers and sisters.
Since September 2017, when Pope Francis began the Share the Journey campaign, U.S. Catholics and migrants and refugees have joined in a “culture of encounter,” consistent with Christ’s message for all to see the needs of others.
The celebration on Dec. 2 saw thousands pack the church in “a beautiful demonstration that the Latino community of South Jersey is always welcoming, accompanying and empowering” the migrant and refugees, said Andres Arango, Bishop’s Delegate for Hispanic Ministry in the Diocese of Camden.
“It was a powerful celebration in two ways: the immigrant community felt the support of their Latino brothers and sisters, and in turn, the Hispanic faithful grew empowered to help refugees and immigrants,” he added.
The captivating, inspiring and heartbreaking stories of immigrant’s struggles was documented during the afternoon by several witnesses sharing their stories from the church podium.
There was a “Dreamer” who was 2 years old when her family immigrated to the United States from Mexico. Today, the young woman, a catechist at Our Lady of Hope Parish’s Saint Jude Church in Blackwood, is fearful that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), of which she is a recipient, will be repealed and she will be subject to deportation.
Still, she spoke loud on Sunday, as a voice for herself and others like her, living in uncertain times.
There were young adults of Divine Mercy’s Catholic Millennial Ministry — Estrellita Martinez, Elizabeth Espinosa, and Ashley Gonzalez — sharing their recent travel experience to the Texas-Mexico border, where they witnessed firsthand the plight of newly-arrived migrants.
There was Luisa Medrano, coordinator of Catholic Charities of Camden’s Refugee and Immigration Services, recounting her day-to-day interactions with individuals and families trying to live a better life.
And there was Father Rene Canales, in charge of Regional Hispanic Ministry in Blackwood, and his stories of immigrants’ faith and their desire to draw closer to Jesus.
A Mass with Bishop Dennis Sullivan followed the testimonies, along with a procession of torches to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe, venerated by Hispanics around the globe, whose feast day is Dec. 12.
After Bishop Sullivan lit a torch for the entire Diocese of Camden, parish representatives made their way up to the torch to receive his fire, and went to find their parish banner in the parking lot to share the light with their own communities. All soon made their way to process in the rain, confident that their flame in the darkness would be a sign of prayer for the refuges an immigrants.
“The day was a great expression of faith, culture and solidarity,” said Marianela Nunez, one of the masters of ceremonies for the event, and Field Consultant for Latino Enrollment in the diocese’s Office of Catholic Schools. “It was incredible to see Bishop Sullivan walking with us.”