Advent prayer services focus on immigrants
Task force raises awareness of hopes and hardship
With immigration numbers once again on the rise in southwestern Pennsylvania, diocesan officials are focusing on meeting the needs of immigrants and making them feel welcome in the community.
"Pittsburgh is a city of immigrants," said Helene Paharik, director of the Department for Human Dignity. "People continue to be drawn to our region to work in various industries, particularly in education, health care and hospitality. The song of Fred Rogers inviting each of us to be neighbor engendered in this region a sense of welcome."
A step taken by the diocese was the recent "Welcoming the Stranger: An Evening of Prayer and Reflection on Immigration" program sponsored by the diocesan Immigration Task Force.
The program provided the faithful with the opportunity to hear firsthand the story of immigrants in the local community.
"Each story is unique," Paharik said. "We heard the stories of refugees, of those seeking asylum, of men and women who came to the United States from Africa, Asia, Europe, South and Central America. All the stories had a common thread of hope overcoming extreme hardship."
Sessions were held at Good Samaritan in Ambridge, St. John the Baptist in Unity, St. Thomas More in Bethel Park, St. Louise de Marillac in Upper St. Clair and Resurrection in Pittsburgh's Brookline neighborhood.
Co-chaired by Paharik and Greta Stokes Tucker, director of the Department for Black Catholics, Ethnic and Cultural Communities, the Immigration Task Force was established by Bishop David Zubik to raise awareness about immigration issues and the need for comprehensive immigration reform that respects the human dignity of the person.
"The Advent prayer services offered an opportunity to raise consciousness about the issues of immigration through prayerful reflection," Tucker said. "We were able to hear the stories of recent immigrants, the reasons they came to the United States and the Pittsburgh region, the challenges of being in a new country, and their resilience and hope."
The "Welcoming the Stranger" sessions were initiated last year. Tucker pointed out that the task force decided to repeat them as a powerful opportunity to pray, reflect and hear the voices of immigrants.
"Advent is a wonderful time to think about welcoming our brothers and sisters from other countries as we prepare to welcome the Christ Child in our hearts," she said.
The most recent sessions included the stories of those from Brazil, Peru, Vietnam, Argentina, Venezuela, Syria, Sudan, Mexico, Philippines, Paraguay and Italy.
In noting the Advent season, Paharik noted that the Holy Family became refugees as they fled the terror of Herod.
"We need to take note of these historical realities and ponder what they could mean," she said. "It is truly important to contemplate that Jesus was born a migrant, homeless, and as a young baby became a refugee. What could that mean for us today?"
More information on the Immigration Task Force is available by contacting the Department for Human Dignity at 412-456-3156, or the Department for Black Catholic, Ethnic and Cultural Communities at 412-456-3170.