By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — A pair of bishops who spent two hours at a Maryland detention center praying and talking with a small group of immigrants facing deportation saw how strong family bonds are.
The 10 detainees, all Spanish speakers, asked the bishops foremost to pray for their wives and children who are fending for themselves in daily life without them, Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville of Washington, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, said after the March 2 visit.
“How sad it is to see this drama of broken families,” the bishop told Catholic News Service.
“Most of them were in tears,” he added. “It has been a very painful experience for all of them. We realized that this is the time to work with them and pray for them. It is important to have this kind of human encounter and to continue to advocate for them.”
The meeting included time for prayer, Scripture reading and discussion with the men, who have been held for various lengths of time. One man had 4-month-old and 2-year-old children, he said, while another man revealed that his mother had died in the last day or two.
Retired Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden of Baltimore joined the meeting, which was arranged by Deacon Chris Schwartz, coordinator of prison ministry for the Washington Archdiocese, and Lonnie Ellis, executive director of In Solidarity, a Washington-based Catholic advocacy organization.
“These men come from Central America mostly. They’re looking for whatever is going to give them hope,” Deacon Schwartz said.
Nine of the 10 men are facing deportation, he said. The 10th was a local man who decided to join the gathering.
Bishop Madden offered a reflection on how mercy and love for others even in the face of hurt, will bring people closer to God.
Bishop Dorsonville said the men joined in making the sign of the cross as prayer began, showing him that “they’re Catholic.”
“The church in the United States is full of immigrants and especially they bring so much love and compassion and understanding and gratitude and family values into the midst of our church,” he said. “By all means we were blessed by their presence. We felt open to their compassion and will continue to pray for these men.”
The day’s Gospel reading, Matthew 25: 31-46, focused on how the followers of Jesus can minister to people in need, and seemed particularly appropriate for the visit, Bishop Dorsonville said.
The meeting for the bishops was the second at the detention center, which includes a section for ICE detainees. The first was in late 2017, Ellis said.
Despite their difficult situation, the men, the bishop said, were pleased to have the opportunity to pray with the church representatives. They asked that their stories be taken to parishes and that parishioners pray for the best possible outcome for their lives, he said.
The bishops pledged to the men that they will ask worshippers at Mass to keep them in prayer.
“They really appreciate our prayers, our concerns,” Bishop Dorsonville said. “They’re waiting for our prayers. That’s a wonderful way to accompany people every day.”