Assembly Theme Moves from Page to Pavement
“Faith • Hope • Love in Action” — the theme of the 2010 Assembly of United Methodist Women — moved from the page to the pavement May 1 in a march and rally for immigrants’ rights in downtown St. Louis.
Two thousand people gathered in Kiener Plaza to demand just and fair federal immigrant reform legislation. It was one of a dozen of such rallies across the country, most scheduled weeks ago and made more dramatic by passage last week of a tough anti-immigrant law in Arizona.
Bishop Minerva Carcaño, a United Methodist bishop whose area includes Arizona, was a main speaker at the St. Louis event. She called the state measure, which in effect criminalizes undocumented persons, not only anti-immigrant but also “anti-humanitarian, anti-civil rights and anti-Judeo-Christian.”
While organized as an activity of United Methodist Women’s Assembly, the rally was coordinated with human rights and immigrant organizations in St. Louis. Representatives of Roman Catholic, Jewish and Muslim communities took part.
The women and a few men from the Assembly, held at the America’s Center in St. Louis, marched five blocks to the amphitheater at Kiener Plaza in the heart of downtown. They were led by a percussion band and by a green banner carried by two young deaconesses, Rachael Harvey of Chicago, Ill., and Amanda Mountain of New York City.
While the rally was taking place outside, a prayer vigil was taking place inside the America Center’s Ferrara Theatre. Several hundred women, some with canes or in wheelchairs who could not manage the march, supported the action of their sisters with their thoughts and prayers. They prayed for the marchers and the people on the street who would encounter them. But mostly, they prayed for the immigrants who face ever increasing hardships in the United States. Some prayed by name for those who waited in jail cells for deportation. Some prayed for the families they would leave behind in the United States. Others prayed for the children of these families who come home to find an empty house when their parents are rounded up in arbitrary raids. Compassion was requested for police and immigration officers, and strength for many in the United States who work tirelessly to bring comfort, reassurance, and security to immigrants who are vulnerable in a land that is foreign to them.
“Because we believe, we act ...”
Many marchers carried signs saying, “Because we believe, we act for immigration rights,” and this phrase was repeated frequently in the worship and speechmaking in the plaza. The cadence of the march was set by the hymn, “We are marching in the light of God.”
A group of 14 Roman Catholic Sisters of Mercy, seven young Jesuit priests and a group from Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice, a St. Louis civil organization, were among the local people who waited for Assembly marchers in the plaza.
Hundreds of people filled out postcards, addressed to Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, requesting swift action to avoid the separation of families, detention and deportation currently allowed in federal immigration law. Such practices were loudly denounced as violations of the sense of justice guaranteed by democratic government and sanctioned by religious ethics.
These cards will be personally delivered to Ms. Napolitano by Inelda González, president of United Methodist Women, and Harriett Jane Olson, the executive in charge of the Women’s Division, United Methodist Women’s national policy-making body, and a division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.
Ms. González and Ms. Olson both spoke at the rally, recalling the historical commitment of United Methodist Women and its predecessors to human and civil rights. “When powerful forces trample people, we of faith but stand up for them in the name of justice,” Ms. Olson declared, saying of the new Arizona law, “This is not right.”
“This is not right,” the crowd chanted back. “This is not right ... This is not right.”
“We must stand up until there is justice,” said Ms. González, who is from Harlingen, Texas, near the border with Mexico. She brought laughter when, referring to her ancestors, she said, “My family did not cross the border, the border crossed us.”
Large puppets were used to dramatize the experience of immigrants to the United States, including the welcoming spirit represented by the Statue of Liberty but also episodes of exclusion, incarceration and economic injustice.
Among those offering prayers at the rally were Msgr. Jack Schuler of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis, Rabbi Susan Talve of the Central Reform Congregation (Jewish) and Imam Muhamed Hasic of the local Islamic community.
Local perspectives on immigrant rights were presented by three speakers, Gedlu Metaferia, the African Mutual Assistance Association of Missouri, who came to the United States as an immigrant from Ethopia; Jelena Aleksic of the Language Access Media Project of the local Bosnian community; and Jamala Rogers, a newspaper columnist and founder of the Organization for Black Struggle.
“Nothing is more refreshing than following enlightened women,” Ms. Rogers said of the organizing efforts of United Methodist Women on behalf of immigrants.
Several local organizations assisted in planning the march and rally. These included Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates, St. Louis Inter-faith Committee on Latin America, the National Farm Worker Ministry and Human Rights Action.
Bishop Carcaño also expressed appreciation to the City of St. Louis for its cooperation in making the event possible.
Christie House, editor of New World Outlook magazine, contributed reporting to this story.
*Elliott Wright is a freelance religion news reporter and former communications officer for the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.