Anti-immigrant sentiment may be rising, but at Raleigh’s Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, support for a compassionate immigration policy has left the pews and entered the halls of government.

At all June 9-10 masses, St. Francis devoted prayers, homilies and actions in support of immigrants. That weekend, when Catholics throughout the world celebrated the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, St. Francis parishioners remembered “that we are one body with people all over the world.”

A press release announcing the program stated, “We may be from different lands and have different talents and skills but we are all part of the Body of Christ.”

Parishioners were asked to fill out postcards to North Carolina’s congressional delegation in support of a just immigration policy. More than 2,400 postcards were collected during the two days: 800-plus each to U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Elizabeth Dole, and another 800-plus to U.S. House members.

The effort was sponsored by the parish’s Franciscan Coalition for Justice and Peace, says coalition director Megan Nerz, who last week was part of a four-member delegation from St. Francis that delivered the postcards to Dole and Burr on Capitol Hill.

Nerz says the group asked the senators to work to revive the immigration bill and to back a compassionate version that includes support for family reunification.

The delegation met briefly with Burr and had “a very good meeting” with Burr’s aide, Nerz said. The group was received “nicely and cordially” at Dole’s office, but they did not meet with Dole.

“[Dole] has made it very clear that she’s going to take a hard line on immigration reform,” Nerz says. “We weren’t really going there expecting we were going to change her mind about anything.”

Former Latin American missionary, St. Francis parishioner and activist Gail Phares helped coordinate the weekend program.

“We’re responding out of our faith tradition,” Phares says. “We, as people of God, believe that we’re all brothers and sisters.”

Phares says the anti-immigrant rhetoric she’s seeing and hearing in the media is very distressing.

“The roots of migration are a U.S. trade and economic policy which has impoverished more than a million and a half small farmers in Mexico and will also do so with CAFTA in Central America,” Phares says. “So they’re streaming into the U.S. trying to feed their families. They’re doing very important work here; we see them everywhere. They’re caring for our children, they’re cleaning our homes, they’re working in construction.

“It doesn’t make any sense to target immigrants,” she says. “They’re not the problem. The problem is both our immigration law and our trade policies.”

Phares said she’s also witnessing “great fear among Latinos” as threats of deportation increase and anti-immigrant sentiment rises.

“The U.S. has a tradition of being compassionate and being pragmatic, and I don’t think we’re being either one on this particular issue,” she says.

While Phares says immigration reform has federal bipartisan support and support from some corners of the business community, the legislation is still being hampered by “extreme conservatives” in the Republican Party who are using anti-immigrant sentiment as a rallying cry.

Many opponents of reform want to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexican border rather than solve the problem justly.

“I hope people of faith look at immigration as people of faith and not be taken in by the right-wing rhetoric that we’re hearing and reading and seeing in the media,” Phares says.

While the Franciscan Coalition has little hope that Dole will do the right thing, Nerz says citizens should flood Burr with support for his backing of immigration reform and urge him to vote “Yes” to cloture on immigration reform bill S1639 and to back the Menendez and Dodd amendments that strengthen family reunification.

“We must balance the need to secure our borders with the need to protect the dignity of the human person,” Nerz wrote.

Citizens are asked to write a short letter to Burr and fax it to his office at (202) 224-3154 or (202) 228-2981.

Help wanted

People of Faith Against the Death Penalty is sponsoring an interfaith service and meal for friends and family members of those on death row. The Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, will be the keynote speaker at the event that is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 7 in Raleigh.

The service will be similar to one PFADP organized in 2000 called “Stay Strong: An Interfaith Service for Families and Friends of People Living on North Carolina’s Death Row” (see “Life Row,” Sept. 27, 2000).

PFADP is calling for volunteers to help with planning, and congregations and groups to cosponsor the event. Matt Toth will be coordinating the planning of the service and meal in cooperation with PFADP’s Wake County chapter. To volunteer, contact Toth at or call PFADP at (919) 933-7567.

Progressive worship gathering

People of faith from across the Carolinas plan to join forces for “a Worship Gathering celebrating the sacredness of life and the dignity of work.” The July 19 event will be held at Fayetteville’s Lock’s Creek AME Zion Church, 4070 Lock’s Creek Church Road.

The gathering, which will include “food, fellowship and worship,” will begin at 5 p.m. with a cultural celebration and a meal. Farm Labor Organizing Committee President Baldemar Velasquez will lead a “liturgy of remembrance” to honor “those who have died in the field and the factory.” State NAACP President William Barber will close the evening with a sermon about “the centrality of faith to the movement for civil rights and social justice in North Carolina and across the nation.”

Renowned jazz and gospel vocalist Ange Smith will sing, and the Fruit of Labor Singing Ensemble will perform.

For more information, call Marilyn Baird at (336) 230-0001.

‘Prophetic witness’ mini-school

The Economic Justice and Prophetic Witness Mini-School, which will include progressive leaders from throughout North Carolina and the nation, will be held July 17-20 at the Bergland Retreat Center at Rockfish Camp and Retreat Center in Parkton, N.C. (approximately 15 miles southwest of Fayetteville).

The mini-school/retreat is being touted as “an experience in practical theology.” Participants “will study, sing, protest and sweat under the heat of the July sun.” Because the retreat is located near Fort Bragg, “the sound of the machines of war can be heard throughout the day. Though in the shadow of domination, we hope that the school will become a space of renewing faith that will move participants to inspired action.”

The retreat will include clergy from many Christian faith traditions; farm, factory and sanitation workers from across the Carolinas; theologians seeking to bring reflection into practice with action; union organizers committed to worker justice; civil rights activists; and other friends in the struggle. The retreat fee is based on a sliding scale. Limited scholarship funds are available. For more information, contact Nicole or Kyle Lambelet at (336) 230-0330 or or write P.O. Box 1623, Greensboro, N.C. 27402.

Durham Mother on trial

Beth Brockman, a Durham mother of two, is slated to stand trial Thursday in Washington, D.C., District Court. Brockman was among nine religious activists arrested Jan. 17 at the U.S. Supreme Court on the 30th anniversary of the 1977 execution of Gary Gilmore. Gilmore, the first person executed in the United States after the reinstatement of the death penalty, was killed by firing squad in Utah. More than 1,000 executions have followed in the United States. Brockman, who has also been arrested several times at Central Prison on the night of executions, was charged with “parading with a banner and haranguing.”

Following her trial, Brockman plans to return to the scene of her alleged crime and join the annual fast and vigil against the death penalty slated for June 29-July 2 at the Supreme Court.

Sad passings

For 14 years, Raleigh’s Dot King befriended the women of North Carolina’s death row with weekly pastoral visits. King, 83, died May 28, three days after paying a final visit to the four women who would meet together with King. Her commitment to the women on death row at the N.C. Correctional Center for Women led to King being honored in 2005 by People of Faith Against the Death Penalty.

In recent months, Chapel Hill also lost two other matriarchs of justice, Lucy Straley (March 29, 2007) and Jean Rutledge Pollitt (Oct. 4, 2006). Friends for half a century, Straley and Pollitt raised their children together and, as members of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, stood together in vigils against war and in support of civil rights.