Last fall, 25 of us gathered in Chicago with Sr. JoAnn Persch and Sr. Pat Murphy, leaders in the Compassionate Immigration Reform movement, to explore the topic of compassion. This leg of the sisters’ compassion journey started on a snowy January morning in 2007 as they stood outside the Broadview Immigration Staging Center with an immigration lawyer in solidarity with men and women being deported that day. Nine years later, they can still be found there most Friday mornings standing for justice.
Compassion in Action
Compassion would take them to Springfield, IL where they were instrumental in the introduction of a bill to mandate pastoral care for immigrant detainees. Skilled collaborators, they understood that the bill’s passage would require support from people of all faiths who believed that pastoral care visitation was a human and religious right of those detained. And, so the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants http://www.icdichicago.org/ , now a non-profit with more than 200 volunteers, was born.
Today, the weekly vigils outside Broadview Detention Facility draw students, teachers, advocates, and religious leaders from around the country. In Sept. 2015, Sr. JoAnn spoke at a Congressional Briefing on alternatives to detention for immigrants awaiting deportation. http://www.sistersofmercy.org/blog/2015/09/16/humans-not-criminals-seeking-alternatives-to-family-detention/. Both Sr. JoAnn and Sr. Pat travel to universities to speak with professors and students about the movement. The two were featured in the documentary film Band of Sisters http://www.bandofsistersmovie.com/.
Compassion Barriers and Breakthroughs
I listened as the sisters fielded questions on everything from an outspoken Republican presidential candidate’s position on immigration to how the two remained motivated in the face of slow progress and setbacks.
I was struck by the care and respect they extended to everyone involved in the situation — elected officials, detainees and their families, and the leadership and staff of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). I am inspired by the way they carried dedication to the cause and a genuine desire for progress with faith and civility.
Living the Questions
Surrounded by the current election rhetoric and churning global events, I continue to live with the questions that arose in me during their conversation:
- If all humans are our “sisters and brothers,” how are we called to respond?
- When is my ability to listen, speak and behave compassionately challenged?
- Am I willing to pray or meditate for “brothers and sisters” with whom I disagree?
- When and how does it make sense to stand together for a common goal?
- How do I nurture faith and optimism in myself and others over time?
When I’m in Chicago, I do my best to join the Interfaith Vigil on the first Friday of the month. I watch the sisters as they greet each person or group warmly. When I grow up, I want to be like them.