One week ago, the 100 Women, 100 Miles Pilgrimage came to its conclusion as dozens of supporters gathered with more than 100 women who had spent the last week marching from York, Pa., to Washington, DC, to stand up for justice for immigrants and their families.
The women, many of whom are undocumented immigrants themselves or have family members who are, greeted a cheering crowd at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where Pope Francis himself would preside over Mass the next day.
Many of the banners contained convicting quotes about the just treatment of immigrants from Pope Francis, including one of the most prominently displayed quotes: “suspicion and prejudice conflict with the biblical commandment of welcoming with respect and solidarity the stranger in need.”
With quiet dignity, the marchers processed slowly and purposefully up the stairs to the entrance of the sanctuary. No more than 50 yards away, the chaos of papal preparations unfolded behind them with seas of chairs, a gigantic Jumbotron, and scores of people all scurrying back and forth setting up everything.
Yet all eyes remained fixed on the brave women who had come so far and sacrificed so much to bring a message to the entire country—and to Pope Francis.
With the Basilica towering over them, the supporters and marchers broke into song. Their first song was in Spanish, but then the women seamlessly transitioned to English as they sang “We Shall Overcome,” a song that is synonymous with the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s but has been adopted by movements for social justice the world over. At various times a woman’s voice would quaver as she held back tears of grief and exhaustion (or perhaps even joy), but then her fellow marcher would invariably reach over to clasp her hand, and they would sing on.
To have a group of mostly Hispanic immigrant women at the Basilica, holding aloft quotes about immigration from history’s first South American pope who would deliver a Mass entirely in Spanish the very next day—who would have ever envisioned this scene just a few years ago? It would have seemed absurd or a delusional fantasy at best. Yet here they were. And their stories and their witness are a ray of hope to sustain those fighting to fix our deeply broken immigration system.