More than 70 letters addressed to Pope Francis from students at San Gabriel Mission Elementary and High Schools and the parish religious education program are expected to be delivered to the Holy Father by a delegation from the Catholic Coalition for Immigrant Rights (CCIR) which will travel to the Vatican next month.
The letters delivery coincides just before President Barack Obama visits the pope on March 27. The students are writing to request that Pope Francis discuss immigration reform and a halt of deportations with President Obama.
This effort is a collaboration of the Catholic Coalition for Immigrant Rights, San Gabriel Mission Church and the Claretian Missionaries who administer the mission parish. The CCIR has been collecting letters from students from California and the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
On Feb. 9, Claretian Father Bruce Wellems, San Gabriel Mission pastor, read some of the letters aloud at Masses. Many student reflections were extremely personal since their families have directly been affected by current immigration policies.
“One student described living in fear and asking the pope to talk with President Obama to fix a broken system,” said Claretian seminarian Bryon Macias. “Their words were honest and heartfelt and we hope that the pope gets a chance to read them all.”
“This is a great opportunity for the students to discuss these issues not only in our classrooms but at home and with their friends,” said Cynthia Valencia, social studies and junior high religion teacher. Her classes discuss social justice issues all the time, but immigration is a concern that can hit home for many students, their families and friends.
“In our parish we have seen a need for reform,” says Valencia who added that some students asked if they could write their letters in Spanish. (“Of course,” she told them, “The Holy Father is well versed in many languages.”)
The students’ letters expressed much concern about what happens to children born here in America whose parents are not legal.
“They wondered, ‘Do they become orphans?’ ‘Do they get sent back to their parents even though they are U.S. citizens?’ These were big worries for many students,” said Valencia.
Millions of Catholic and non-Catholic children in the U.S. live in fear that a parent may be deported, separating their families and causing traumatic emotional wounds --- which is what has happened to hundreds of thousands of families due to current immigration laws.
“It takes a village to raise a child and we are taking away the village,” asserted Father Wellems. “We are taking away the village that cares about them.”
In addition to raising awareness about the issues, Valencia said that the letter writing campaign also demonstrates how citizens can make a change in their parish, city, country and world by “joining together.”