Category Archives: Spirit Filled Network

NETWORK Reflects on the Do Not Be Afraid March and Vigil in El Paso

Tenemos Esperanza! Choosing Compassion in a Time of Scapegoating

Colin Martinez Longmore
April 4, 2024

A beacon of hope shone brightly in EL Paso, Texas, the evening of March 21, 2024 as hundreds gathered for the “Do Not Be Afraid” March and Vigil for Human Dignity, hosted by the Diocese of El Paso and Hope Border Institute. The march and vigil, a show of solidarity with asylum seekers and migrants, powerfully displayed unity in the face of adversity.

Ruben Garcia, Annunciation House, “Esta noche, todos somos Casa Anuncion (Tonight, we are all Annunciation House)”

Ruben Garcia speaks at the “Do not be afraid” march and vigil. Mary J. Novak is second from left holding the banner.

Over the past few months in the U.S., persistent hostility and scapegoating of migrants–and the direct service providers who aid them–has taken a sharper turn, particularly in Texas. Annunciation House, a network of shelters that receives and assists vulnerable asylum seekers, was targeted in unjust political probes.  Additionally, troubling state legislation like S.B. 4, which would allow local law enforcement to racially profile and arrest anyone suspected of being an undocumented migrant, was also signed into law (although it has not taken effect yet due to court challenges). Despite these actions, faith and borderland organizations showed they were unafraid. At the invitation of El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz, NETWORK Executive Director Mary J. Novak and I were proud to join them in offering support and prayer from the NETWORK community, and our help strategizing a way forward.

Bishop Mark Seitz, Diocese of El Paso said, “The work of God can never be made illegal”

Bishop Mark Seitz, Diocese of El Paso

The rally began in San Jacinto Plaza and drew a diverse crowd, including many Catholic Sisters, religious and clergy, students, leaders from different faith traditions, as well as local and national organizations serving migrants.

NETWORK Reflects on the Do Not Be Afraid vigil and march in El Paso, Texas

left to right, Elvira Ramirez (Executive Director, Maryknoll Lay Missioners), Mary Novak (Executive Director, NETWORK), and Sister Genie Natividad (Vice President Maryknoll Sisters)

Hope as a form of resistance against fearmongering was emphasized by the speakers who also held up the shameful criminalization of compassion; welcoming the stranger — a fundamental principle of faith — cannot be made illegal. We proclaimed in one voice, which rang out through the plaza: We have hope!Tenemos Esperanza! 

Marchers at the "Do Not Be Afraid" Vigil

Marchers at the “Do Not Be Afraid” Vigil

From the plaza, the crowd moved to Sacred Heart Church, where we filled every pew. The interfaith vigil, led by the Bishops of El Paso, testified to the city’s resilience and unity. Local leaders from across religious traditions, migrant organizations, and even asylum seekers spoke powerfully of solidarity and led the community in prayer.

The "Do Not Be Afraid" Vigil for Human Dignity at Sacred Heart Church

Attendees of the “Do Not Be Afraid” Vigil at Sacred Heart Church, El Paso, TX

The Holy Spirit’s presence was palpable throughout the evening, encouraging everyone to reject the fear and division often weaponized against communities like El Paso. As we enter this election season, we have clarity about the continued challenges that lie ahead for our migrant siblings and the communities that welcome them. However, our time in El Paso reminded us there is light and hope in the collective compassion and actions of communities standing together.


Take Action After Watching White Supremacy in American Christianity

White Supremacy and American Christianity, Part 4

Toward the Beloved Community

Discussion Guide

Bring the discussion to your community with a resource guide designed by NETWORK’s Grassroots Mobilization team.


Join us for an elections season training series for justice-seekers

What is White Christian Nationalism?

NETWORK partner, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC), released a joint project with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) detailing Christian nationalism’s prominence in the January 6 insurrection. In it, Amanda Taylor of BJC shares, “Christian nationalism is a political ideology and cultural framework that seeks to merge American and Christian identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism relies on the mythological founding of the United States as a ‘Christian nation,’ singled out for God’s providence in order to fulfill God’s purposes on earth. Christian nationalism demands a privileged place for Christianity in public life, buttressed by the active support of government at all levels.

Christian nationalism is not Christianity, though it is not accurate to say that Christian nationalism has nothing to do with Christianity. Christian nationalism relies on Christian imagery and language.”

Watch Previous White Supremacy and American Christianity Conversations

White Supremacy and American Christianity, Part 3

Discussion Guide for Part 3

Bring the discussion to your community with a resource guide designed by NETWORK’s Grassroots Mobilization team.

White Supremacy and American Christianity, Part 2

In October 2022, ethics professor Fr. Bryan N. Massingale and author Robert P. Jones participated in an enlightening conversation ahead of this year’s midterm for an exploration on the influence of  White Supremacy in American Christianity on our politics. The conversation was moderated by NETWORK’s Joan F. Neal.

White Supremacy and American Christianity, Part 1

In April 2022, NETWORK engaged experts working at the intersection of racism, nationalism, and Christianity for a conversation on the poisonous effect that White Supremacy has on American Christianity. Fr. Bryan N. Massingale, Dr. Robert P. Jones, and NETWORK’s Deputy Executive Director and Chief Equity Officer Joan F. Neal were joined by Georgetown University’s Dr. Marcia Chatelain.

White Supremacy and American Christianity Guest Speakers

Darcy Hirsh is the Senior Director of Policy & Advocacy at Interfaith Alliance, (Part 3) where she leads the organization’s policy work at the local, state, and federal levels, as well as its critical advocacy in the courts.

Dr. Robert P. Jones is the President and Founder of PRRI, and author of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity. Robert P. Jones speaks and writes regularly on politics, culture, and religion in national media outlets including CNN, NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and others. Dr. Robert Jones’s latest book is a New York Times best-seller. You can buy it here: The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy and the Path to a Shared American Future and follow Dr. Jones through his newsletter at

Fr. Bryan Massingale is the James and Nancy Buckman Professor of Theological and Social Ethics, as well as the Senior Ethics Fellow in Fordham’s Center for Ethics Education and author of Racial Justice and the Catholic Church. Fr. Massingale is a noted authority on social and racial justice issues, particularly in Catholic spaces. Read Fr. Massingale’s Op-Ed in National Catholic Reporter, “As the election cycle cranks up, Christians need to call out white Christian nationalism” and his keynote address at the 2022 Outreach Conference: “Intersectionality and LGBTQ Ministry”

Professor Marcia Chatelain, Ph.D., is the winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in History (Part 1) her book Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America. She is a professor of history and African American studies at Georgetown University and the leading organizer behind the #FergusonSyllabus, an online educational resource that has shaped educational conversations about racism and police brutality since 2014. 

You've Seen the Conversation, Now What Can You Do?

Note: These were actions to take after White Supremacy and American Christianity, Part 2 in Fall 2022.

Pray for Reparations during Black History Month 2023

A federal reparations commission must be established by March 2023 to allow 18 months of work (as prescribed in H.R.40) to be completed without risk of a new administration disbanding it. We must pray!

In November 2022, Jewish and Christian faith leaders gave spirited calls for reparations to finally repair the harm that racist policy and laws unleashed during and after slavery. Storytellers from the field shared why their communities deserve redress for education, homes, and more loss because of racist government action.

Learn why reparations are needed now. NETWORK staff and keynote speaker, Rev. Jacqui Lewis, Ph.D, tell us the history of H.R.40, give us Christianity’s faith foundation for reparations, and help us learn to talk to friends and family about race and reparations. Reparations can heal the economic prosperity divide and lingering pain from Jim Crow, disenfranchisement, discrimination in tax policy, biased home lending, restrictive covenants and more.

Keep Up with NETWORK

Just Politics Catholic Podcast Season 2

2024 State of the Union BINGO Card

2024 State of the Union Bingo

March 7, 2024

Based on NETWORK’s Build Anew policy agenda, and our advocacy for a multiracial, multi-faith, inclusive democracy–where everyone, in every community thrives–we’ve created a 2024 State of the Union BINGO Card. Please use it during President Biden’s third State of the Union Address to Congress on Thursday, March 7, 2024.

Download your BINGO card in color or download your BINGO card in black and white.

Make sure you have your BINGO card ready when you watch the State of the Union Address live to track how President Biden’s speech addresses important policy areas for our country.

NETWORK hopes to see President Biden address the work needed to dismantle systemic racism, cultivate inclusive communities, root our economy in solidarity, and transform our politics with policies that will let all of us thrive–no exceptions!

2023 Voting Record

2023 Congressional Voting Record

At the start of each new year, NETWORK compiles an assessment of Congress’s voting record. The 2023 Voting Record is our Government Relations Team’s evaluation of Members of Congress based on the votes they cast to advance just policy in the U.S. The first session of the 118th Congress stands out as a year of abject legislative failure. It was a year of squandered opportunity, petty infighting, and deep frustration. The norms of the system — civility and goodwill at minimum to members of one’s own party — have vanished. The problem did not start this year; rather, institutional norms have slowly eroded dating back to the speakership of Newt Gingrich and the government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996. The Trump administration accelerated this decay in Washington leading directly to the insurrection of January 6 and an attempted overthrow of the 2020 election.

Congress, due to inaction in the House, has pushed all decisions on major legislation into 2024, making this the most non-productive, dysfunctional Congress in the modern era. The House of Representatives completely failed in their responsibility to the American people. As always, the high cost of inaction falls hardest on the most vulnerable among us.

100% Voters

Senators who voted with NETWORK 100% of the time.
CA Feinstein, Butler
CT Murphy
DE Carper
GA Warnock
HI Hirono
IL Duckworth, Durbin
MD Cardin, Van Hollen
NJ Booker
RI Reed, Whitehouse
VT Leahy

To see the list of House of Representatives with 100% records, please download the 2023 Voting Record.

Keep Up with NETWORK

Call Elected Leaders to Advocate for Social Justice

Action Alert: Call Your House Representative

Tell them to pass the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024!
January 17, 2024

Hardworking families need your help right NOW. Call 1-888-738-3058 today and urge Congress to pass the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024 (H.R.7024). Republicans and Democrats worked together on this important legislation that would increase the tax credit for hardworking parents who’s low income keeps them in poverty, struggling to make ends meet as they.

The Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024 (H.R.7024) will make meaningful progress toward the goal of ending child poverty. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a half-million kids will be lifted out of poverty and about 5 million more will be less poor. Hardworking families need this tax credit! The bipartisan proposal to expand the CTC was led by Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (Oregon) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith (Missouri-08). NETWORK calls for its urgent passage. We need your help to get it passed!

How can you help? Call your Representative today to help get the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024 (H.R.7024) passed?

CALL NOW! Tell Your Representative:
Pass the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024!

*Dial 1-888-738-3058 to reach your member of Congress.

When you call, here’s what you might say:

“Hello, my name is [YOUR NAME] from [YOUR TOWN]. I want to let [REPRESENTATIVE’s NAME] know that our country needs to reduce child poverty–which has doubled since 2022. That’s why I support the bipartisan-supported Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024 (H.R.7024). As a NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice advocate, I believe it is immoral for children to go without meals, medical care, housing, and other vital needs. This CTC proposal will give lower-income parents the money they need to properly provide for their families.

Expanding the CTC to more families is more important now than ever. For people in my community, in our state, and across the country, wages don’t cover the high cost of monthly bills, like groceries and childcare. And hardships like this add up–pushing far too many people into poverty. This is not the time for politics as usual. Congress must work together. Will [REPRESENTATIVE’S NAME] work with their colleagues to pass the bipartisan CTC bill immediately?

More about the proposed expanded Child Tax Credit bill

Although it is not as generous as the tax credit in the American Rescue Plan Act, this proposal will provide full CTC benefits to approximately 16 million children who are currently deprived of CTC resources solely because their families do not earn enough money. More than 20 percent, or one in five children, will benefit from this tax credit. 

Under the current law, 19 million children are ineligible for full CTC benefits, solely because their families do not make enough money. The Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024 expands the tax credit to include nearly 16 million more children of parents who make lower incomes. While the monthly checks that NETWORK supporters advocated for are not included, this is a meaningful CTC expansion. More than one in five children would benefit.

Called to Action: NETWORK’s 50 Years of Political Ministry

“Called to Action: NETWORK’s 50 Years of Political Ministry” by Mara D. Rutten

Book Review

Review by Sr. Susan Rose Francois, CSJP

In her book, “Called to Action: NETWORK’s 50 Years of Political Ministry,” Mara D. Rutten offers a well-researched, engaging, and comprehensive history of the nation’s first Catholic Social Justice lobby. Through first-person interviews, archival documents, and narrative storytelling, Rutten documents the creative and faithful response of Catholic sisters to the call of the Second Vatican Council to read and respond to the signs of the times through the birth and development of this collaborative political ministry. In the process, she also weaves together a variety of seemingly disparate yet intersecting threads—the renewal of religious life, feminism, social concerns, single issue politics, church and state, and the role of the laity. The resulting work not only creatively tells the story of NETWORK, but also gives the reader an insightful perspective on the tapestry of social, political, and ecclesial life in the United States during the past half century.

No doubt, some readers may have lived through much of this history themselves, perhaps even as supporters and participants in NETWORK’s early efforts to seek systemic change and justice in the world through advocacy for economic justice, led by women religious who had personal experience accompanying people most impacted by unjust public policies. Rutten makes these early days come alive, managing the difficult task of painting a dynamic picture of organizing meetings and policy debates through the judicious use of first-person accounts and archival materials. As a relative late-comer to this movement inspired by Catholic sisters—I am the same age as NETWORK and was a Nun on the Bus in 2016—I found myself enthralled and invested in the narrative. Moreover, Rutten highlights a clear thread of intentionality and integrity throughout the journey, even amidst challenges and controversy in both political and ecclesial spheres.

Rutten begins her narrative later in the story, with the 2012 appearance of then Executive Director Simone Campbell, SSS on The Colbert Report, following the Vatican’s naming of NETWORK in the document announcing the doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. While not explicit, when read in the larger context of the time, the Vatican officials’ concern seemed to be the focus of NETWORK’s advocacy—applying Catholic Social Teaching to issues of social and economic justice—as well as “promoting certain radical feminist themes.” Careful readers will see this as a reference to the reality that NETWORK was not actively advocating on the issue of abortion.

“Called to Action” gives critical context here, carefully outlining the initial and subsequent discernment by NETWORK founders and leaders to center their advocacy work on the “bottom drawer issues,” including hunger, housing, and militarism. The term refers to the discovery by founding NETWORK Director Carol Coston, OP that the top three and a half drawers of lateral files in the US Bishops Conference covered the issues of federal aid to parochial schools and abortion. All other social concerns were crowded together in the bottom half of the fourth drawer. This was where NETWORK felt called to focus their efforts. This had the result of avoiding duplication of efforts. It also led to criticism of NETWORK from various audiences over the years. Nevertheless, generations of NETWORK leaders and staffers held fast to this commitment to promote Catholic Social Teaching and highlight the critical bottom drawer issues affecting quality of life in service of the common good, taking the message from the halls of power to the highways and byways.

Another narrative theme is the application of the call to universal holiness and the dignity of all persons, particularly women, to NETWORK’s operations and advocacy. On the advocacy side, this led to lobbying for the Equal Rights Amendment and health care access. Rutten’s storytelling here both lifts up the unique role of NETWORK in this work and describes some of the pitfalls, detours, and frustrations along the way. In terms of operations, from the beginning NETWORK sought to create an internal system of pay equity and shared collaborative leadership. Rutten carries this thread throughout the history, all the way to the current leadership model of lay women and men with a small number of women religious.

“Called to Action” is filled to the brim with a who’s who of courageous, creative, and faithful people who have carried out this innovative political ministry over the past fifty years—too many to name here. Built on a solid foundation, inspired by sister spirit and fueled by the call and response of the laity, NETWORK continues to focus on the bottom drawer issues in service of the Gospel. Here’s to the next 50 years!

“Called to Action: NETWORK’s 50 Years of Political Ministry” is available for purchase on Amazon for $14.99 and $6.49 on Kindle.

Faith in Democracy

Faith in Democracy

Nichole Flores on Catholic Teaching’s Power to Fight Hate

December 20, 2023

Dr. Nichole Flores, associate professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia

Dr. Nichole Flores is an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia. Her work focuses on issues of justice, democracy, migration, family, gender, and economics. She is Catholic, Latina, a wife, a mother, and like so many residents of Charlottesville, she witnessed the unthinkable when white supremacists with tiki torches marched on her city in 2017 and killed one young activist, Heather Heyer.

Dr. Flores recently spoke with NETWORK about democracy, public theology, and community in the wake of the Charlottesville attack. The following is an excerpt of that conversation.

How did your early life steer you toward teaching and writing on religious studies and Catholic ethics, justice, and democracy?

NF: I think the originating event was bearing witness to the faith of my grandmother, Maria Guadalupe Garcia Flores. Like so many of us, I was inspired by my grandmother’s faith, which passed on to me in a really profound way.

When I began studying theology, I realized that to be a Latina theologian and to have witnessed what I had witnessed in my grandmother’s life, in the lives of my family, and in my community meant that theology necessarily had a public and a social orientation. I had to pay attention to those things that were most challenging for our communities, and to think about them theologically. What does theology have to say about poverty, about anti-immigrant sentiment, about racism? That guided me in this direction, in addition to just an innate love for politics.

Can you tell us about your experience of the events in Charlottesville in August 2017?

NF: My narrative of these events is deeply informed by the activists and specifically the religious activist community in Charlottesville, of which I count myself a part. One of the young activists at the forefront of the response, who also happens to be one of my former students, Zayana Bryant, likes to say, “Charlottesville is not just a moment, it’s not just a hashtag, it’s a movement.”

It’s important to understand that local activists refer to not just that day of August 12 but to that summer as the “Summer of Hate” in Charlottesville. There were several rallies leading up to August 12. The community was very aware that the Unite the Right rally was being organized and was trying to sound the alarm bells early on. I think the rest of the world was really surprised by what happened. But those who had been paying attention in Charlottesville were not at all surprised. And that was even more devastating, because a lot of people put in a lot of energy trying to mobilize religious communities and activist networks, and get more support in town. Those connections didn’t really materialize at the level that could have made a difference and saved more lives. So that’s a part of the story.

At the time, I had just found out that I was pregnant with my first child. I had flown to Denver with my husband to share the news with my family. We watched all of this unfolding from 2,000 miles away, which was difficult, especially given that we had been concerned and had tried to show up in protest earlier in the summer. The local truly became national and global in that moment.

Because of our experiences in Charlottesville, our community was not terribly surprised by what happened on January 6. It resembled very closely what we had survived in our town, including the lead up, the kind of violence, and the people who were involved with the violence. It’s interesting how that on-the-ground experience has shaped the consciousness of our community. We have this devastating, first-hand knowledge of what can happen when we don’t take these threats seriously.

What has happened since then?

NF: Charlottesville is just like any other city with a lot of welcome but also challenging diversity in experience, politics, and socioeconomics. The Catholic community in Charlottesville, with just a handful of parishes, has everybody from frontline leaders of the resistance who put their lives on the line for Black Lives Matter, to people who were writing and talking about it, like me, to people who were horrified but didn’t really do anything in terms of direct action, to people who were kind of neutral. These people are all Catholic, and we’re all communing together.

This has been a real challenge for me not just in my calling as a Catholic theologian, but also in my calling as a Catholic mom who goes to Mass and participates in my parish because I want to love the people in my community as Christ loves. It is really, really challenging when I see openness to these ideologies that are a threat to my community, especially to our Black and Jewish siblings, who were very explicitly targets. In Catholic Social Teaching, solidarity is a virtue. An approach of solidarity helps me to hold all of these challenging things. I love the people sitting in the pews next to me, but I also strongly object to many of the ways that people have responded to this incident.

Even though I’ve been concerned and even disappointed at times by the response of our Catholic community in Charlottesville, the movement has really unfolded and been committed to making Charlottesville a better place to live in a broader, more comprehensive way. Responding to instances of white supremacy, successfully campaigning to remove Confederate statues that mark public space in our town as unsafe for Black and Brown people, providing support and community for migrants and refugees, advocating better zoning laws so more people can afford to live with dignity in the city where they work… — there is so much great work happening in Charlottesville in response to this event that I think is really inspiring.

You mentioned watching these events while pregnant. What are the lessons or insights you want to pass down?

NF: Because that baby is now 5 years old, I think about this a lot, and the importance of teaching him that he belongs to this community and thus has responsibility for things that maybe he wasn’t even born for. I’m trying to instill an awareness that these injustices exist, but not stopping there — that he has power and responsibility for responding to them. What does this world look like when all our friends are valued and their dignity acknowledged in ways that lift them up?

How can public theologians change the discussion around democracy in the U.S.?

NF: Those who are reflecting theologically in this context of a democracy that’s being tested have the opportunity to set the discourse. As someone in a public university where I teach mostly non-Catholic students, I think there are resources from within our beautiful, multifaceted Catholic tradition that can help our entire society to think well about the challenges that we are facing in a democracy. Now, in a political environment where a lot of people are justly on guard for the creeping theocracy, we have to be very wise and judicious about how we introduce resources for public consideration. But I do think it can be done.

I wrote a book on Our Lady of Guadalupe. Her symbol, even though it is profoundly Mexican and super Catholic, appeals to so many people and invites them to think about what justice and flourishing means. Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers were able to show other activists and organizers how a symbol, a very particularly religious symbol like Guadalupe, could be so powerful for people who had never heard her story.

Can religious arguments really change people’s minds?

NF: I think that they have and they can, but it is a process of communication and of making them accessible to the public. And that’s one of the things that I very much admire about NETWORK’s work in the community.

How can our concepts be relayed in a way that neither waters them down nor alienates people? Catholic Social Teaching is a wonderful place to start because these concepts are profoundly Catholic, but they also resonate with people who are not Catholic. If we explain clearly what we mean by common good and common life, people are really amenable to that vision. The same with solidarity.

We have a deeply Christ-centered, grounded understanding of solidarity and we can bring the richness, thoughtfulness, and prayerfulness of our tradition to bear on this larger conversation.

You taught a course called “Faith in Democracy.” Where do you find faith and hope in our democracy?

NF: I think back to that experience of being pregnant with this beautiful baby, witnessing devastating events that would rightly make someone feel despair. Why do we do what we do if this is just how people are going to react?

We were bringing life into the world even as these awful things were happening. We had hope in this little person. It’s been very special and profound to watch him grow up, to see the values he’s already been able to cultivate, this little hope, this little light. To see how he has been shaped by this community in ways that are so positive underscores the hope that I have.

I’m kind of obsessed with Advent, because it’s a season where we reflect deeply on what it means to gestate and to give birth. In doing that, we create room for another person. And that’s a profoundly democratic thing to do, right? And a profoundly Catholic thing to do. There’s a lot of richness there, and that continues to motivate me even when things are decidedly still difficult in our society.

Hear more of this conversation on the Just Politics podcast

This story was published in the Quarter 4 2023 issue of Connection. 

The Need for Welcoming Communities

The Need for Welcoming Communities

Congress Can Invest in Welcoming Asylum Seekers Across the U.S.

Jenn Morson
December 5, 2023

Sr. Susan Wilcox, CSJ, of Brooklyn, N.Y. shares her account of coordinating and serving meals to people seeking asylum who had been bused to New York. She noted how her efforts would benefit from Congress funding the Shelter and Services Program (SSP), which would shift the U.S. response to asylum seekers from militarization at the border to investment in communities across the country who offer a welcoming response to asylum seekers.

“Immigrants and Asylum Seekers Welcome Here!” read the signs held by a handful of supporters stationed behind the podium as several speakers, including three supportive members of Congress, gathered to deliver a letter to Congress signed by over 7,000 Catholics. Gathered September 13 on the U.S. Capitol grounds, members of NETWORK Lobby and other organizations including the International Mayan League, Church World Service, and Women’s Refugee Commission joyfully and emphatically laid out their hopes for a shift in how the U.S. government approaches its response to asylum seekers.

In her opening remarks, Ronnate Asirwatham, Government Relations Director of NETWORK, stated that the purpose of the gathering was to call on Congress to invest in welcoming communities. “Who are welcoming communities?” Asirwatham said, “To put it bluntly, welcoming communities are our community. People who welcome are all of us. It is very natural to welcome. We welcome each other, we welcome strangers, we welcome people seeking safety, and people passing through.”

“While it is most natural to welcome, it seems today that the voices against welcome, especially against welcoming people seeking asylum, [are] getting louder,” Asirwatham warned. “State and federal governments are moving to criminalize welcome. In Arizona, people are being arrested for leaving water out in the desert. In Florida, people are afraid to take their neighbors to the doctor because of pushback. And in Texas, people seeking safety are being pushed back, and Texans wanting to provide them water are not being allowed to.”

In spite of these obstacles, Asirwatham comforted those gathered, saying, “We are not going anywhere. Congress will hear us. Congress must act and enact laws and policies that support us, the American people, that allow us to thrive and reap the benefits that welcoming our fellow human beings allow. This is why our message is simple: we are asking Congress to invest in welcoming communities. We are simply asking Congress to invest in us.”

Gathered Together

Asirwatham introduced many compelling speakers who gave testimony of their own advocacy work as they also encouraged Congress to invest in welcoming communities. Speakers at the press conferences were optimistic despite the strongly worded letter calling for a renewed sense of justice.

Rep. Judy Chu (CA-28) speaking at the gathering

U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20) addressed the crowd, thanking NETWORK for being a voice of compassion, conscience, dignity, and reason for human beings. Castro’s own mother previously served on the board of NETWORK. “Your voice and your activism is needed more today than ever,” Castro said. “We need to remind politicians who use migrants as political scarecrows — because that’s what they do, they use them as scarecrows to engender fear and resentment among the American people — we should remind our fellow Americans and mostly politicians that America became the strongest nation on earth not in spite of immigrants but because of immigrants.”

“Instead of embracing our rich immigrant heritage, too many politicians have used our immigrant communities as political pawns by fearmongering and peddling harmful, dangerous, political rhetoric. And the human cost is immense,” said Rep. Judy Chu (CA-28) in her remarks.

Lifting up the leadership and vision of Pope Francis, Rep. Luis Correa (CA-46) said, “One human being suffering around the world is one human being too much.”

In her moving testimony that referenced her own plight as a refugee from Guatemala, Juanita Cabrera Lopez, Executive Director of International Mayan League, gave a message of hope: “I know firsthand what it looks like when a community invests in welcome and justice, and I know it is possible today because many communities are already doing this work.”

Regarding the immigration of Indigenous Peoples, Cabrera Lopez said, “Our ask remains the same. We need long-term investment to continue welcoming asylum seekers, particularly Indigenous asylum seekers.” Cabrera Lopez concluded her speech with a call for investing in shelter for newly arriving families and youth.

Sent Forth

Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM, holds up a copy of the letter signed by over 7,000 Catholics from all 50 U.S. states calling on Congress to invest in communities who welcome asylum seekers, while Sr. Karen Burke, CSJ, and Sr. Alicia Zapata, RSM, pray a blessing over the letter at the conclusion of NETWORK’s Sept. 13 action on Capitol Hill.

Sister Eilis McCulloh, HM, encouraged those gathered to extend their hands in prayer over the letter to Congress, as Sister Alicia Zapata, RSM, and Sister Karen Burke, CSJ, prayed in gratitude for the signers of the letter while also offering prayers for immigrants, organizations that support immigrants, and for the openness of members of Congress to the message of the letter.

“May this letter, which carries the stories of our immigrant siblings and our hope for immigration reform, be one way that we share in Jesus’ mission to ‘welcome the stranger’ and advocate for immigration policies that invest in communities,” they prayed.

The letter, which was co-sponsored by Hope Border Institute, Kino Border Initiative, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, and St. Columban Mission for Justice, Peace, and Ecology, was addressed to key House and Senate members. It begins with Pope Francis’ 2015 remarks to Congress, in which he urged those gathered to welcome the stranger. The signatories are asking Congress to appropriate funds for supporting immigrants and communities while divesting from programs which militarize the border and criminalize immigrants.

In order to accomplish these goals, the letter urges Congress to fully fund the existing Shelter and Services Program at $800 million in 2024, and to distribute the funding equitably.

Additionally, the letter requests that any funding made available is done so via grant or contract rather than as a reimbursement. Additionally, the letter urges Congress to take back all funding for the border wall construction that has not yet been spent and cut funding for Customs and Border Protection and all other militarized border enforcement agents and technologies, as these agencies are overstaffed and overfunded.

NETWORK and its partners remind Congress that seeking asylum is a human right that should not be restricted, and invite them to embrace the Catholic belief of the inherent dignity of every person and make this a guiding principle to immigration policies, moving away from militarization and towards care.

In the words of Sister Susan Wilcox, CSJ, “We are doing the work. We have the solutions. We just need a little help.”

This story was published in the Quarter 4 2023 issue of Connection.