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Praying with Refugees from the Americas
Sunday, May 01, 2011

Fr. Kenneth J. Gavin, S.J., celebrates Mass at a detention center in Arizona.

Washington DC, May 1, 2011 — Every day, undocumented men and women are deported from the United States without money, without food and without help. The deportees are primarily citizens of Mexico or Central American countries who were detained in U.S. federal detention centers and who are sent back to their country of origin.

"The most forgotten and vulnerable people in our country are largely housed in detention centers run by the federal government." ~ Fr. Kenneth J. Gavin S.J., former Jesuit Refugee Service/USA National Director, now Assistant International Director of JRS.


Reflections for Prayer

Desperation forces many men and women to flee their homes in search of a future in the in the United States. They come regardless of whether or not it is legal. They come compelled by fear, by want, by desperation and spurred on by hope.

Many are met with detention. Jesuit Refugee Service/USA has provided chaplains for detainees in federal detention centers throughout the United States since 2000. The majority of these people are non–U.S. citizen immigrants who have lived in the U.S. without documentation, and whose sole offense is an infraction of the immigration code. They are the people that Pedro Arrupe, S.J., had in mind when he started JRS – the forgotten and vulnerable.

“We have people here from all over the world. We are missionaries who don’t go out; the mission comes to us...I think the detainees receive a lot of spiritual motivation and strength from the services that we have for them. They realize they are in the heart of God at all time... I think that we’re disciples, we’re learners as well as teachers,” said one of the chaplains at the Florence Detention Center in Florence, Arizona.

The relationship that JRS chaplains have with detainees goes is often reciprocal.

“The detainees really make the Scripture come alive for me. They’re really present, participating in it. I always come away feeling very inspired and think, 'That’s why I’m here,’” said Sr. Rosemary Cummins, O.P a JRS/USA chaplain.

The chaplaincy program remains an essential service that guarantees detainees an opportunity to express their faith while they face the despair and life-changing prospects of being detained and deported.

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Suggested Reading for Prayer

"What happens when people, especially the most vulnerable, encounter a clenched fist of repression or manipulation rather than a hand of hope? A first group of examples pertains to the heart. Here, the dreams and longings that young people pursue can so easily be shattered or destroyed. I am thinking of those affected by drug and substance abuse, homelessness and poverty, racism, violence, and degradation — especially of girls and women. While the causes of these problems are complex, all have in common a poisoned attitude of mind which results in people being treated as mere objects — a callousness of heart takes hold which first ignores, then ridicules, the God-given dignity of every human being. Such tragedies also point to what might have been and what could be, were there other hands — your hands — reaching out. I encourage you to invite others, especially the vulnerable and the innocent, to join you along the way of goodness and hope."

Pope Benedict XVI

Saint Joseph Seminary, Yonkers, New York
April 19, 2008