First, the Rev. Roberto Mena called forward a couple celebrating 23 years of marriage. He blessed them and the congregation applauded. Next up were two nuns, marking more than two decades in the Catholic Church.
Mena then turned his attention to the immigration raids. When agents flooded seven Mississippi food processing plants on Aug. 7 — including two facilities in nearby Morton — dozens of Mena’s parishioners were taken away. During a Thursday evening service, several people whose family members were locked up approached the front of St. Michael’s Catholic Church to receive the priest’s prayers.
Nearly all Mena’s time these days is spent dealing with the aftermath of the raids. He estimates half those who attend St. Michael’s and a sister congregation, St. Martin de Porres, in Morton, were detained — people from about 90 families. Mena and the majority of his congregants are Guatemalan, with services offered in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.
Mena, 52, has been fielding such a steady barrage of calls from worried parishioners — wanting spiritual advice, wanting to know how to find legal help, or where to get food — that he must recharge his phone twice a day. In church and on the phone, he said, his message has been consistent.
“The church is with them, and we are a community,” Mena said he stresses, adding some congregants have been fearful about attending Mass after the raids. “We are going to hold them in this difficult situation that they are facing — they are not alone.”
About 100 packed the small brick church on Thursday evening, filling nine rows of pews and overflowing into the entryway. Mena rotated between speaking English and Spanish, and several parishioners delivered lessons in Vietnamese. A band played in the corner.
“We take everything that happened, and we take it to prayer,” Mena advised his congregants. He mentioned the Virgin Mary, saying that she was concerned about her sons and daughters in this difficult moment. He added: “When we are suffering and in pain, we connect with the suffering and pain of Jesus Christ.”
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SOURCE: Mississippi Clarion Ledger, Luke Ramseth