On Monday I joined others from our community on the first leg of a Holy Week pilgrimage to honor immigrants. We started at the Church of the Holy Cross Catholic Church in Atlanta and walked three miles to the Church of the Open Table into Chamblee, an Atlanta suburb.
This walk, a call to pray with our feet, began six years ago by members of the Alterna community in LaGrange, GA and now has several hundred participants and the support of many local congregations. Each day of Holy Week people remember Jesus’ last days leading to his crucifixion and carry in prayer our brothers and sisters who, like Jesus and our ancestors, are immigrants. Every year the procession is led by an immigrant who carries a wooden cross. The cross this year had the names of children whose lives were directly affected by our detention and deportation system.
After morning Mass a few dozen walkers gathered outside in front of the church. Anton Flores read the story of Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers. He pointed to Jeremiah 7 where the Lord demands that we not rob the outcast, the orphan, the widow, the strangers among us of their dignity. He challenged us to consider this question: If we separate justice from worship are we turning our houses of worship into robbers dens? You can read his reflection here.
We then formed a line and walked two by two along the narrow sidewalk past the strip malls and highways that could be anywhere in the United States. Two police officers followed us to provide protection as we crossed the streets in safety. Just this morning I heard this story on NPR that a man who had lived and worked in the US for eleven years was arrested in LA and deported. His crime: jaywalking. During the Holy Week pilgrimage immigrants cross the street with police protection. On most days, many of our sisters and brothers cannot casually cross the street in this land without fear.
I brought my four year old daughter. Our neighbors also came along with their two young children. Their daughter had just injured her ankle and couldn’t walk so they brought the double stroller. They carried their one year old in a back pack so that my daughter could hitch a ride. Since we had a stroller and rain was in the forecast, I went ahead and brought umbrellas, raincoats and water. Before I had kids I used to look disdainfully at four year-olds being pushed in strollers like royalty. But I knew we couldn’t keep pace with a large group of adults in normal weather and knew it would be even harder if it rained. Here we were pushing our children and all our extra gear while the people around us walked empty handed. My daughter walked for part of the way but soon her legs grew weary and we fell to the very back of the line while I carried her. I imagined doing this in the desert, without water, with invisible prickly pear thorns in my ankles and doubted that we would be able to keep up. I thought of all the mothers who make the journey across the border with young children without strollers, coffee, diapers, sippy cups, cell phones, snack trays, sunscreen, umbrellas or toys. All they carry is an eight ounce plastic water bottle and hope for a better life.
We travelled to Atlanta in a fifteen passenger van. Even though it was only a two hour ride, when we needed to use the bathroom we stopped. For those who make it safely across the border on foot the next leg of the journey for many is to be smuggled from the border to a city in the interior. This could mean being packed like sardines into the cab of a pickup or the back of a truck and told to be still and quiet while the truck drives, non-stop to its destination. My bladder can’t stand the thought of a 9 hour drive, with kids, without a pit stop. That is why they are told not to eat or drink before the trip. This is what people will go through to work in chicken plants, pick our fruit and vegetables, clean our messes, keep us bringing home cheap bacon.
We stop in the parking lot of a Mexican supermarket. A young woman with a guitar and nails in her ears greets us with a smile and sings praise songs in Spanish. Those who are able sing along. My daughter later tells me that her “best day was the lady with the guitar.”
We arrive at the church and are served bread and soup. Just as it is time to go home the sky opens and the rain that waited so we could walk on dry ground, begins to pour.
Yesterday, on Maundy Thursday other members of our community joined in the 8 mile leg of the pilgrimage. About 250 people walked through the city of Atlanta. The walk ended with a ceremonial foot washing. Twelve US Citizens were given the honor of washing the feet of twelve immigrants.
On the night that Jesus was betrayed he said to his disciples, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15)