Voice of Voiceless Award: Cardinal Mahony

A Tireless Advocate for Immigrant Justice:

Mahony Accepts Voice of Voiceless Award in El Paso

by Kathy Revtyak

No estamos rendidos! Estamos aqui hoy para pedirles que no se desanimen y que no pierdan la esperanza. Tenemos que seguir luchando y vamos a seguir luchando!” (We have not given up! We are here today to ask you not to give up or lose hope! We have to continue struggling and we will continue struggling!) mahoneyTHThese were the inspiring words issued by Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, long-standing advocate of immigrant rights, and Annunciation House’s recipient of the 2007 Voice of the Voiceless Award, to the immigrant community on June 29[1]. Comprehensive immigration reform had just stalled in the Senate, and Mahony was no less deflated in his commitment to work for immigrant justice. In fact, with much vigor, he urged all of us committed to just and humane immigration reform to continue our efforts—in the same spirit with which he has tirelessly led the Church faithful during the last two decades in seeking dignity for immigrants.“This is not the end of immigration reform. Our immigration laws are unjust and immoral. The current system causes the suffering and even death of many immigrants. I and our Catholic Church will continue to struggle for just and comprehensive immigration reform that respects and protects human rights and the dignity of each person.”Mahony’s efforts to promote just immigration reform originally were given notoriety following his Ash Wednesday 2006 homily and have since continued to receive much national attention. For his outstanding recent leadership on promoting immigrant rights, especially as a beacon in our Catholic Church, and his long-standing activism on behalf of people in migration, especially the undocumented, Mahony was invited to El Paso to receive Annunciation House’s fourth Voice of the Voiceless Award on April 14, 2007.After months of anticipation and preparation, our border community was ready to receive him much enthusiasm and vigor. More than 2,500 individuals were involved in receiving the Cardinal, as attendees at the Voice of the Voiceless outdoor mass and solidarity dinner, as volunteers, and/or as sponsors. The day’s events truly were of, by, and for our local community. Among those present for day were: guests, volunteers, and Board members of Annunciation House; ordained, religious, and lay persons of faith from countless communities and local parishes; immigrants and immigrant supporters from our broader El Paso-Juarez community; and faithful from across the country. The afternoon Voice of the Voiceless outdoor mass, presided by Mahony,was held in the streets surrounding Annunciation House. A large stage flanking the house was adorned with a giant banner echoing the day’s theme—“Justice for Immigrants: One Table, One People.” An altar was constructed by the community in front of the stage and was filled of symbols representing the unity, livelihood, and hope expressed in the immigrant struggle for justice: colorful paper-mache flowers, crosses of various shapes and sizes, and costales of fruits, vegetables, and breads. As several groups of the faithful arrived to the mass site in procession, mariachi and matachina groups from more than six parishes set the stage for the Eucharistic celebration. An energetic choir—assembled from members of nearly a dozen local parishes—animated the more than 1,500 faithful gathered in the streets. Liturgical dancers led the opening procession, replete with colorful flags, banners, and adornos. Presiding at the mass with Mahony were more than 25 priests and our esteemed border bishops, Most Revs. Armando Ochoa and Ricardo Ramirez (from El Paso and Las Cruces, respectively.)True to his background and charisma, Mahony reminded the congregation that we are all called by virtue of our baptism to respond to our sisters and brothers in need—many of whom are immigrants. He said, “The whole population of the United States is of immigrant peoples … Someone asked me by what right do I speak out for the immigrants, documented or undocumented. I speak as a baptized follower of Christ who calls us to love one another, and especially to defend the widows, the orphans, the strangers in the land … We are all children of God.”Mahony called on the faithful to respond to the reality of the injustice that immigrants experience in our country through both word and action. “This is our voice,” Mahony told the congregation, “We do it together as one body of Christ.” Indeed, as Mahony reminded us, God does not distinguish between those men, women, and children who are documented and those who are undocumented—we all are God’s children, all united as one human body around one table, which we collectively share.The evening Voice of the Voiceless solidarity dinner, once again hosted at Santa Lucia Parish, reflected the same spirit of community energy and celebration present at the outdoor mass. More than 450 persons attended, and nearly 100 individuals—many from Santa Lucia—served as volunteers, preparing the hall and the simple meal of beans and rice shared for dinner. As has been the case at each of the four solidarity meals hosted by Annunciation House, such a simple menu reflects the daily diet of many of the poor of Latin America.The evening was similarly replete with ritual and symbolism that expressed the community’s solidarity with and commitment to immigrant justice. An ecumenical opening prayer involved more than a dozen community members, presenting breads baked in different styles from immigrants around the world. And then, several guests from Annunciation House, men, women, and teenagers alike, presented a Declaration of Immigrant Rights (see sidebar) to the assembly. One participant, Antonia, related her experiences: “My name is Antonia, and I am a single mother of three. I have been living in the United States with my children for the last five years. I also am a daughter and a sister. I am about to obtain my GED. I am a survivor of domestic violence, and I am making a better life for my children.” She, like each of the four participants, told the crowd, “Soy inmigrante,” and then asked, “Dónde está la justicia? Pido justicia para migrantes.” “We too are immigrants,” echoed five teenage immigrants, all previous guests of Annunciation House who are studying at local high schools and universities. “We too ask, ‘Where is the justice for immigrants?’ We too demand justice for immigrants.” As the teens read the Declaration of Immigrant Rights to the community, Annunciation House guests and volunteers distributed copies to dinner attendees and asked them to sign their own declaration, to be sent to one’s Congressional representative. Attendees responded to the immigrants with a powerful ovation.Prior to Cardinal Mahony’s acceptance of the Voice of the Voiceless Award, Director Ruben Garcia, on behalf of Annunciation House, recognized the activism and witness for immigrant justice most visible in El Paso during the last year. Both the parish of Santa Lucia, represented by Fr. Tony Celi
no and several lay leaders, and Monsignor Arturo Bañuelas, of St. Pius X Catholic Church, received standing ovations from the crowd. Under Fr. Bañuela’s leadership, St. Pius had hoisted a banner onto its steeple earlier during the year, visible to interstate traffic, which stated: “Immigrants Welcome Here.”In proceeding to introduce Cardinal Mahony, Board Vice President Sr. Lilly Long narrated a chronology of Mahony’s long-standing support for and leadership on behalf of immigrants in the United States. As auxiliary bishop of Fresno, CA, Mahony worked to resolve labor disputes between the workers and Growers’ Union. In 1985, he was named Archbishop of Los Angeles; during his tenure, he launched a campaign for immigrant justice—“A Journey of Hope.” He now joins the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops in promoting immigrant rights at a national level.Garcia then offered a rationale for presenting Mahony the 2007 Voice of the Voiceless Award: “This award is given to him for his long-standing defense and solidarity with immigrants and the undocumented, and most recently for his brave stand in opposition to House Resolution 4437. This bill would make any person without documents in the United States a criminal, as well as make it criminal for anyone to offer aid of any kind to such a person.”Indeed, in his Ash Wednesday homily of 2006, Mahony had stated that if such a bill became law he would instruct all the pastors of his diocese—the largest in the country—to disobey it. Such a law, Mahony said, was in opposition to the Gospel mandate to serve the least among us: “To refuse to aid one’s neighbor,” Mahony had said, “is to violate a law with authority greater than that of Congress … the law of God.” Mahony’s bold statements proved to be life-giving to the movement on behalf of just, humane immigration reform. In the spring of 2006, thousands upon thousands took to the streets in cities across the United States in massive pro-immigrant demonstrations.In receiving Annunciation House’s fourth Voice of the Voiceless Award, Mahony was both gracious and energizing. Mahony told the audience that he accepted the award not for immigrants, but alongside of them, and all of faithful who are called to respond to their plight. He urged each of us to take up the fight for just and humane immigration reform, offering up a strong and unified voice: “This is our voice. We do it together as one body of Christ.”Before departing the stage to a standing ovation, Mahony also asked dinner attendees to do their part in helping to realize just immigration reform. Such actions might include, he said: talking to neighbors or community members, praying, involving one’s parish in taking action on the issue, and/or contacting one’s congressional representatives. “This is the moment of immigration and we must seize this moment,” he said to an emotional crowd.Although many argue that comprehensive immigration reform has little hope for new life in the immediate future, Mahony has not ceased in his efforts to promote justice for immigrants. An infatiguable advocate, the Cardinal offered leadership for the May 1st “Day of Action In Honor of Immigrant Workers and their Families”; he has been a vocal supporter of the Church’s “Dreams Across America” initiative; he has continued to speak with congressional leaders across the country and in Washington, DC about the issue; and he regularly issues pastoral statements from his archdiocese concerning immigrant justice.In the same July 29 statement issued to the immigrant community, Mahony reiterated the Church’s position on immigration: “I assure you that I and all of the Church will always be in solidarity with our immigrant community … You are always welcome in your Church; this is your home.”“I will say it one more time: I promise that I and the Catholic Church will continue to fight for just immigration reform. Our Church is in solidarity with you and with all of our immigrant brothers and sisters. We have to replace fear and insecurity with courage and determination. We should, we can, and we will win this struggle.”

[1] “Comentario Sobre El Bloquo de la Reforma Migratoria en el Senado,” From the Cardinal by Cardinal Roger Mahony. Posted on July 2, 2007 at http://www.archdiocese.la/archbishop/index.php. Published in Spanish and translated by the author.

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