For dignity and respect, immigrant women walking 100 miles to Pope Francis

| By Erik Zygmont | September 22, 2015 | 0 Comments

By walking from Pennsylvania to Washington, Juana Flores and about 100 other women hope to get Pope Francis’ attention so he can deliver a strong message that America needs to treat its immigrants with dignity and respect.

“This is a moment where loss is affecting a lot of immigrant families,” said Flores, a former nun who today co-directs Mujeres Unidas y Activas, a California-based organization of Latina women working for immigrant rights.

“If we are not supporting laws that go against family separation, then we are not living our Catholic lives,” added Flores, 54, a Catholic who lives in San Francisco.

She entered the U.S. with no documents in the early 1990s.

Whether or not the group manages to meet the pope, “we want him to listen to our stories,” she said through interpreter Catalina Nieto, as the women stopped for lunch in the grass in the Baltimore County community of Ashland Sept. 18.

Forty-three miles into their 100-mile pilgrimage, the women ate burritos at a parking area for the Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail.

The group began the journey Sept. 15 at York County Prison in southern Pennsylvania, covering about 15 miles a day. The women spent the night of Sept. 19 in Baltimore before pressing on to Washington.

They planned to arrive at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception about 4 p.m., Sept. 22 — the day the pope arrives — and from there walk the final three miles of their pilgrimage accompanied by supporters. A closing vigil is planned for 6:30 p.m. at McPherson Square in downtown Washington.

After that, the pilgrims planned to be at the Ellipse — the park just south of the White House — as Pope Francis meets with President Barack Obama and begins his papal parade Sept. 23.

The pilgrimage is being coordinated through We Belong Together, a campaign of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.

Maria Lira, 51, a Mexican immigrant living in Houston, said the immigrants she sees at work in her adopted city do not square with the “negative comments” she hears on television.

She is praying that people “listen more and see that these people are doing a lot of good in the community,” particularly those who clean professionals’ houses and take care of their children.

“These kinds of services are the kinds of services through which we can support each other,” Lira added. “As a Catholic, I’m walking to support the people not getting dignity and respect at this time. I’m calling on the 70 million Catholics (in the U.S.) to support immigrants who are being separated from their families.”

Rosario Reyes, 38, who came to America from El Salvador 12 years ago, said she left behind her son, Jose Ramon, who was 1 year old at the time.

“At least my son is back in El Salvador,” she said through the interpreter, in tears. “There are mothers walking whose family members have been taken away.”

“I’m walking so I can bring this message to Pope Francis,” she added. “He’s going to take it to senators and to Congress. With this act of love, Pope Francis will give us freedom.”

Jennifer Dillon, communications director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, said the women had raised money for the journey online through supporters and through their connections to supporting organizations.

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Category: World Meeting of Families