ROCHESTER — As the nation enters a new era of presidential and congressional leadership, speakers at a Feb. 16 interfaith prayer vigil said they are hopeful that immigration reform will become a reality sooner rather than later.
The event was held at the First Unitarian Church as part of an Interfaith Immigration Coalition that is demanding justice for the nation’s millions of immigrants. Similar vigils are being held throughout the country from Feb. 13 to Feb. 22.
Speakers at the local event illustrated how the different faiths represented at the vigil share the common thread of welcoming the stranger in their midsts. In welcoming the nearly 200 people gathered for the vigil, Erin Gingrich, a ministerial intern at First Unitarian, quoted one of Susan B. Anthony’s most famous phrases, “failure is impossible,” and had participants repeat it. Anthony was a member of the congregation, Gingrich noted.
“When we are working for what is right, failure is impossible,” she said.
Among the evening’s speakers were Bishop Matthew H. Clark; Isobel Goldman, community-relations director of the Greater Rochester Community Jewish Federation; Bishop Prince Singh from the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester; Dr. Muhammad Shafiq, imam of the Islamic Center of Rochester and director at Nazareth College’s Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue; and Virginia Fifield, a Mohawk Indian from the Turtle clan. The event included reflection, song and a dance performance from Alma Latina (Latin Soul), which comprises farmworkers from Oaxaca, Mexico, who live in the Albion area.
Bishop Clark read the passage from the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus urges his disciples to take in the stranger and teaches them, “What you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me.”
“We pray together tonight for the grace to recognize all our sisters and brothers as children of a God who loves us all,” he said. “We pray for our nation that it will be willing to grapple with the issue of immigration in a compassionate … way.”
People of faith witness the consequences of the country’s current broken and outdated immigration system every day and are called to serve the migrant workers who suffer because of those unjust laws, Bishop Clark noted.
“We are called to find a response that offers healing and hope for all people,” he said.
Organizers encouraged those in attendance to call and write their congressional representatives to ask for reform through the creation of a path to citizenship for the country’s 12 million undocumented workers, reformation of employment laws so migrants can enter and work in a safe environment, and due-process protections.
Bishop Singh encouraged everyone to remain “prayactive.”
“We are a prayactive people,” he added. “Run and make our prayers a reality until justice will run down like water.”
Bishop Singh began his keynote address by expressing pride that, as a newly naturalized citizen of the United States, he was a part of the service being held on Presidents’ Day.
“We look at the great leaders of our time (and religions), those who served before us and helped create a world that is getting better … and one quality stands out,” he said, mentioning such leaders as Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed and Anthony. “They were neither here nor there. They are beckoning us to get to the next world and seek a better tomorrow. That is what an immigrant is.”
Bishop Singh said people of faith need immigrants among them to constantly challenge them so they don’t wallow in comfort. And in the nation’s current turmoil — dealing with a recession and two unresolved wars — it would be easy to turn away from its most vulnerable people, he added.
But activists must be careful not to “thingify” people, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, or consider them as objects “who can be overlooked, dispensed,” Bishop Singh remarked.
The rights that farmworkers lack — no overtime pay or day or rest, no disability insurance while being exposed to pesticides — are not things anyone should overlook, he said.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said Bishop Singh, again quoting Rev. King. “We are called to respond in meaningful ways in our time.”