It has been a year since immigrant mothers made the impressive pilgrimage on foot from an immigrant detention center in Pennsylvania to the political seat of power in Washington, D.C. On Sept. 16, the women of last year’s 100 Women 100 Miles pilgrimage returned to the steps of the Supreme Court — singing, chanting, and praying for justice and mercy in the immigration system. Then, as part of an event organized by We Belong Together and The National Domestic Workers Alliance, they retraced a portion of their steps — a scaled-down anniversary pilgrimage, from the Supreme Court to the White House.
In the year since the original pilgrimage, the U.S. has been host to extreme xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment. Threats of mass deportations are spewed regularly in election campaigns. Anti-immigrant violence has increased steadily this year. And earlier this year, at the exact spot where the women had protested, the Supreme Court halted the expansion of vital naturalization programs DACA and DAPA, a major setback for families hoping to support loved ones in the naturalization process.
In light of all these challenges, the gathering on Sept. 16 was more than a reunion of fellow walkers. The desire for movement on immigration reform was a central focus. Samantha Herrera, a representative of Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center, explained the focus:
“Today we’re here to ask President Obama to stop the deportations of our family, stop the detention of mothers and children, and stop this climate of hate toward immigrants.”
Somewhat ironically, this year of anti-immigrant sentiment is also the Catholic Jubilee Year of Mercy, as decreed by Pope Francis. For these immigrant women, the message of Pope Francis has driven their work in spite of the hateful and discouraging rhetoric. These women gathered to encourage more faithful “to elevate Pope Francis’ message that with the globalization of migration, we should welcome that with the globalization of compassion and love,” Herrera said.
Sister Diane Roche, RSCJ, also blended Catholicism into the fight for immigration reform in her prayer before the march. Inspired by the Beatitudes, her prayer put a Biblical emphasis on God’s favor for the struggling and marginalized:
“Blessed are you who weep now, like those families who live in isolation and separation when one member must migrate to find work. For you will be comforted. Blessed are the merciful, like those who provide water in the desert for stranded migrants. For you will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, like the children who wait and hope for a parent who has crossed the border to return. For you will see God.”
Framed as the modern subjects of the beatitudes, the prayer reminds us that though immigrants may not be in favor with racist Americans, they are in favor with God.
By caring for immigrant communities, the activists of the 100 Women 100 Miles movement are fulfilling Pope Francis’ call for Catholics to perform works of mercy. Their movement questions the whole idea that works of mercy only occur in homeless shelters or nursing homes. They are offering an alternative vision for Corporeal Works of Mercy, where radical compassion can be shown through advocacy and public demonstrations.
Perhaps in this Year of Mercy, this model of mercy may spur Catholics and all people of goodwill to be politically engaged for just and merciful policies.