Walking, witnessing for immigrant families

Jose Ortiz, pastoral assistant for social outreach at St. Charles Parish in Burlington, participates in a 2009 pilgrimage to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. He will walk again this month in an archdiocesan-wide pilgrimage to the detention center. Photo: Courtesy Nick and Mary Mele Jose Ortiz, pastoral assistant for social outreach at St. Charles Parish in Burlington, participates in a 2009 pilgrimage to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. He will walk again this month in an archdiocesan-wide pilgrimage to the detention center. Photo: Courtesy Nick and Mary Mele

Catholics around the archdiocese are invited to join pilgrimage to detention center

Jose Ortiz was taking care of his infant granddaughter when he saw news reports last year about children being separated from their parents after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I was holding her in my arms as children were being taken apart and broken apart from their moms,” said Ortiz, pastoral assistant for social outreach at St. Charles Parish in Burlington. “I thought that we needed to do something.”

Later, while at Mass, “it just came to me that I needed to go beyond praying,” and the idea of a pilgrimage to show solidarity with immigrant families was born.

On April 29, the archdiocesan-wide “Walking & Witnessing for Immigrant Families” pilgrimage will begin at three points: Bellingham, Vancouver and Kirkland. The routes will converge at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma on May 11, where an outdoor Mass is to be celebrated at 11 a.m. by Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo.

“It’s very inspiring to see how people are so on fire about wanting to be a part of this,” said Erin Maguire, a network builder for Catholic Community Services of Western Washington, which is sponsoring the pilgrimage with the Archdiocese of Seattle, the Washington State Catholic Conference and the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center.

Don’t be scared off by thinking, “Well, I can’t walk to Tacoma,” Maguire said. People are encouraged to participate in whatever way they can — on foot, by car or praying in solidarity at home — and for whatever length of time they’re able.

Some people “might want to walk a mile with us. Others might want to walk the whole 120 miles,” Maguire said. “A lot of parishes are going to walk just the day it’s in their neighborhood. People are planning to walk, ride their bikes, take their kids in strollers,” she added.

Each route includes stops at parishes along the way. Parishioners will host the pilgrims with meals, shared conversations, sleeping accommodations (for those not returning home at night) and a prayerful send-off for the next day.

It’s not about speeding from one parish to the next, Maguire said. “It’s very much about … being on the walk in the presence of the other,” sharing each other’s stories and “stopping somewhere and praying for an hour.”

Pilgrimage is ‘a joyful prayer’

Walking Pilgrimage
Photo: Courtesy Nick and Mary Mele

This isn’t Ortiz’s first pilgrimage to the Northwest Detention Center. A decade ago, he joined a pilgrimage from Bellingham to Tacoma organized by Mary and Nick Mele, members of Church of the Assumption Parish in Bellingham. That pilgrimage, focusing on immigration reform, grew out of the couple’s involvement in Pax Christi, the Catholic peace and social justice organization.

Walking with migrants during the pilgrimage was an experience that was both humbling and heart-opening as people told their stories, Nick said. “Every human person is worthy of respect, dignity and love,” he added. “We can see the Christ in one another in the pilgrimage.”

The 2009 pilgrimage “helped us deepen our community up here in Bellingham,” Mary said, “and it gave me more of a sense of being part of the diocese.” And the prayers offered at each parish along the way — whether it was the rosary, Mass or a Bible reflection — “always fed our walking,” she said.

Unlike a protest or a march, the point of a pilgrimage is to pray, Nick said. And the movement adds to the prayer, he explained. “The physicality of the movement and the prayer of the movement and offering up sore feet or thirst or heat, that’s an extra dimension of prayer.”

Making a pilgrimage, Mary said, “is not excruciating. This is not punishment, this is not penance. This is a joyful prayer. Because we are hoping in God.”

Thinking of Mary and Joseph

After the news of the family separations, Ortiz said, he was part of a team that traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to witness what was happening. Seeing it on the news was one thing, he said, but it was entirely different “to see with your own eyes and look in their own eyes … hearing the stories and talking to people.”

Some might question parents who take their children through several countries over hundreds of miles, Ortiz said, but “who wouldn’t do that if your children are hungry and in danger? Who would keep their children in that situation? Unless we go through it ourselves, we will never understand.”

This spring’s pilgrimage is about solidarity not just with Hispanic families, he said, but with all immigrants who have faced and may face family separation. “We’re all in it together; one time or another we were all immigrants,” Ortiz noted.

He also makes a connection to the journey of Joseph and Mary “and what they had to go through to save and protect their newborn.” For Ortiz, this pilgrimage will be “a prayer, a reflection, and to be aware that even after 2,000 years it’s still happening and it will continue to happen.”

The pilgrimage is also “a lesson for us to learn as parishioners what can we do better,” Ortiz said. “We can always blame the system,” he said, but “what’s one thing that we’re not doing right in our own parishes? How can we embrace our faith and embrace our brothers and sisters that are in our own churches?”

For updates on the pilgrimage, visit WACatholics.org/PrayerWalk2019.


The church’s position on migration is rooted in the Gospel and the rich tradition of Catholic social teaching. Five principles to help formulate migration-related policy were outlined in “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope,” a joint pastoral letter of the Catholic bishops of the United States and Mexico:

1. Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland. All persons have the right to find in their own countries the economic, political, and social opportunities to live in dignity and achieve a full life through the use of their God-given gifts. In this context, work that provides a just, living wage is a basic human need.

2. Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families. The church recognizes that all the goods of the earth belong to all people. When persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right.

3. Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders. The church recognizes the right of sovereign nations to control their territories, but rejects such control when it is exerted merely for the purpose of acquiring additional wealth. More-powerful economic nations, which have the ability to protect and feed their residents, have a strong obligation to accommodate migration flows.

4. Refugees and asylum-seekers should be afforded protection. Those who flee wars and persecution should be protected by the global community. This requires, at a minimum, that migrants have a right to claim refugee status without incarceration and to have their claims fully considered by a competent authority.

5. The human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected. Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity that should be respected. Often they are subject to punitive laws and harsh treatment by enforcement officers from both receiving and transit countries. Government policies that respect the basic human rights of the undocumented are necessary.

Source: justiceforimmigrants.org

Northwest Catholic - April 2019

Jean Parietti

Jean Parietti is the local news editor for NWCatholic.org and features editor for Northwest Catholic magazine. You can reach her at [email protected].

Jean Parietti es editora local para el sitio web NWCatholic.org y destacada editora de la revista Noroeste Católico/Northwest Catholic. Pueden contactarle en: [email protected].