Cultures unite for community prayer, celebration at cathedral

Categories: Around the Diocese

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Dancers from the youth group at Casa Guadalupe in Cold Spring performed during the reception following the Inspiring Hope: Celebrating Community prayer service April 25 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud. Photos by Dianne Towalski / The Visitor

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

Twelve-year-old Dennise Rodriguez-Aviles dreams of becoming a teacher or social worker to help orphan children. Her parents, immigrants from Mexico, own a small grocery store in Cold Spring where they work long hours to give their three daughters more educational opportunities.

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An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is carried in procession to begin the prayer service.

The sixth-grader at St. Boniface School in Cold Spring was one of three Latinos who shared their stories before a group of about 250 April 25 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud during an event called “Inspiring Hope: Celebrating our Community.”

Organizers invited area legislators and the public to pray together and listen to testimonies from immigrants. The goal was to help attendees get to know about the lives of immigrants and refugees living in the area and highlight the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

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Dennise Rodriguez-Aviles, a student at St. Boniface School in Cold Spring shared her story in a reflection during the prayer service.

“I have dreams for my parents, too,” Rodriguez-Aviles said. “I realize how important it is for them to maintain the family together and stay united. My parents need to drive to their work places, pick us up from school and bring us to the doctor’s office. Every time they do, they are risking being detained and deported. I worry about how life would be for us if my sisters and I do not have the possibility to hug and kiss our parents.”

Bishop Donald Kettler, assisted by translators, led a bilingual prayer service that included readings, reflections and songs in both Spanish and English. During his homily, he shared a quote from Pope Francis.

“Every human being is a child of God,” he said. “He or she bears the image of Christ. We ourselves need to see, and then enable others to see, that immigrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved.”

Bishop Kettler called for the community to recognize the values migrants and refugees bring to the country in addition to “being part of God’s family and our human family” — these include having a profound faith in God, a love of family, and their rich cultures and spirituality.

“There are challenges facing the 11 million undocumented persons in our country,” he said, “but these challenges can be solved in healthy and constructive ways. We all need to work toward this goal.”

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Bishop Donald Kettler shakes hands with Yadira Garcia, 11, and her mom, Blanca Guzman, right, from St. Boniface Parish in Cold Spring, and Kristen Wall, a Franciscan Volunteer, center, during the sign of peace

The pain of family separation cannot be allowed, he said, and encouraged everyone to “sow a sense of solidarity among all workers and co-workers” and to work for legislation that “respects family unity and provides an orderly and reasonable process for unauthorized persons to attain work status in the U.S. and, if desired and properly prepared, someday citizenship.”

Voices of hope

Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, gave the closing remarks.

“The value of an event like this is in bringing people together to pray about how they can be a voice for those in their community,” Adkins said. “Positive social action comes when you get people to come together as a community. They know they are not alone, they can show a sense of solidarity with others, and they can become educated about what they need to do.

The event came as state lawmakers are considering legislation that would impact Minnesota immigrants. Safe Roads Minnesota is one such proposal that would allow everyone to apply for a driver’s license regardless of immigration status.

The day’s lineup also concluded with food, music and fellowship. Colorfully costumed dancers performed several native dances while guests enjoyed snacks and cross-cultural conversation. The Minnesota Catholic Conference staffed a booth to provide information on immigration, Catholic social teaching and advocacy opportunities.

P.J. Connors, a member of Assumption Church in Eden Valley who attended the event, befriended a Hispanic family in his parish while helping their son with faith formation.

“When they first moved here, their kids hadn’t been through religious education,” Connors said. “I had just retired so I spent a year of Tuesday afternoons helping him get caught up.

“They are the nicest family,” he added, “ but I get this sense that they are kind of alone. They don’t have many Hispanic connections and there aren’t that many people in our community that speak their native language. So when I heard about this event, I decided to come.”

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Greg Spofford, pastoral minister at Sacred Heart Parish in Sauk Rapids signs up for the Catholic Advocacy Network as Kris Lehman, a member of Atonement Lutheran Church in St. Cloud reaches for information at the Minnesota Catholic Conference booth.

For Connors, the gathering was a beginning in helping bridge cultural gaps and creating awareness about immigrants living in local communities. He admits it isn’t an easy task.

“Right now, it sort of seems like we’re basically preaching to the choir, “ he said. “But how do you get a message out to the whole population? Well, you have to start somewhere and then you hope the message spreads.”

For attendee Georgina Mendez, coming together as a community was extremely meaningful.

“This is a place where brothers and sisters meet and pray to God, regardless of the colors of our skin,” she said. “When we come to this sacred place, we don’t belong to any other community, we are all one here.”

Other speakers at the event included Maria-Elena Gutierrez, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Waite Park and the president of the local La Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, or Assembly of Civil Rights, who came to the U.S. as an 18-year-old and now works to educate other Latinos about civil rights and responsibilities.

Edson Salgado, a 21year-old dental hygienist student at St. Cloud Technical and Community College in St. Cloud, shared his story about growing up as the son of immigrant parents, who work hard to pay for his education so he can “live the American dream.”

Rodriguez-Aviles said fear is her “constant companion every day,” but like Connors, she has hope for the future.

“I know I need to talk with somebody. Will somebody listen?” she asked the crowd. “What would happen if all the children ask the president to help us fix this situation? I will ask him for permission for my parents to live here without fear, with the right to honestly work and keep our families together. Today, I ask all of you to help me ask for it. I ask you to open your hearts and support with actions the right for our parents to live with dignity and stay united with our families.”

For more information about immigration reform, visit the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the state’s bishops, at www.mncc.org.