To commemorate Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the church's penitential season, several United Church of Christ groups and congregations hosted immigration reform prayer vigils Feb. 13. The events, which coincide with a U.S. Senate hearing on immigration also taking place on Ash Wednesday, aim to publically show the faith community's support for comprehensive immigration reform.
"Traditionally, we think of Ash Wednesday as a day of repentance, but as progressive Christians, we tend to be wary of such a term," said the Rev. Mari Castellanos, UCC policy advocate for domestic issues. "Repentance gets bad press. It's not about guilt, but rather, it literally means to think it over, to reflect. It can be whatever we as individuals and as a community of faith may be struggling with, or ought to be."
In Washington, D.C., clergy from the UCC, Church World Service and other interfaith groups lead an Ash Wednesday service across the street from the Hart Senate Building, where the immigration hearing will take place. The group called for national repentance from "the structural sin of our broken immigration system that separates thousands of families every year and leaves children without parents," and for Congress to pass fair, compassionate immigration reform with a roadmap to citizenship for the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants.
"In Washington today, we have faithful Christians praying in the streets over the plight of our undocumented sisters and brothers, while the United States Senate begins their hearings on immigration," said Castellanos. "We hope and pray that Congress will find a just solution that will end the terrible circumstances which our immigrant brothers and sisters find themselves in."
Cathedral of Hope UCC in Dallas will also host an Ash Wednesday immigration reform prayer vigil. A suggestion from Justice for Our Neighbors, one of Cathedral of Hope's social justice allies, the goal of the event is to publically show political leaders that people of faith are interested in and support comprehensive immigration reform, and to educate those who may not be aware of the many difficulties immigrants who come to the United States face, said Lynn Walters, Cathedral of Hope member and one of the vigil's key organizers.
"Ash Wednesday is the beginning of a penitential season in the church," said Walters. "As Christians, we need to view this situation through our faith. What did Jesus call us to do? How do we live that value in our lives today? We need to be honest with ourselves and each other about how we contribute to immigration and how we treat immigrants in our communities."
Walters expects a few dozen people to attend the prayer vigil. But she adds, "I hope that anyone who has an interest in learning about our broken immigration system and what to do about it will come."
The United Church of Christ has a long history of affirming the dignity of immigrants and working for comprehensive U.S. Immigration policy. Since 1995, General Synod – the main deliberative body of the UCC – has repeatedly called for a fair and human approach to U.S. immigration policy that protects families and respects the humanity of our immigrant brothers and sisters.