Father Frank Alagna of Holy Cross/ Santa Cruz Episcopal Church in Kingston, NY, wrote these words for the panel on immigration held at the Woodstock Jewish Congregation, Woodstock, NY, on November 1, 2017.
My dear friends,
I had wanted to spend this evening with you. Unfortunately, the universe had other plans, and I have been hospitalized for the past week.
By way of introduction, I am listed on the flier for this evening’s forum as the founder of the UIDN. I want to modify what is much too generous an attribution. I am but one among those who came together in early March to gave birth to what has become the Ulster Immigrant Defense Network.
At the end of July, Rabbi Jonathan, the Board of Directors, and WJC made a decision to affiliate formally with the UIDN. For this we are truly grateful. I want to thank the Rabbi and the team that has formed at the WJC for the purpose of operationalizing this congregation’s support of this most important and even holy work that we seek to be about together. I also want to thank the WJC UIDN team for organizing and hosting tonight’s event.
It is my hope that this evening’s panel and discussion will serve to deepen our community with each other and our solidarity with those millions of innocent people who made the often perilous journey across our borders to escape violence and poverty in the hope of creating a life and a future for themselves and their families – the same millions who are now being threatened and targeted by this administration.
After the fall election, it became so evident that the hate speech, nativistic impulses, primitive nationalism, and xenophobic thinking that fueled the election would find as many opportunities as possible to incarnate its inherent and disfiguring ugliness.
My parish, Holy Cross/Santa Cruz Episcopal Church in Kingston, is a bilingual and multicultural community. As such we soon began to experience the impact of the neo-fascism that was being encouraged, emboldened, and celebrated, in the run up to the election and nearly every day since then.
The members of my congregation began to be frightened – not only our Latino members, but also our Anglo members who have, over these past years, embraced the one-time strangers among us as much- loved brothers and sisters.
Last November, one of our Latino leaders shared that his nephew had come home from school and told his mother that he wasn’t going to return to school tomorrow or ever again. When she asked why, he told her that after school some of his peers cornered him in the hallway and told him that he wasn’t a real American. That he didn’t belong here and that soon he would be sent back from where he came. The child was born in Kingston Hospital. The responsibility for such bullying can only be laid at the feet of one man and the minions who do his bidding.
One Sunday, last December, after our Spanish language service, I found myself in the position of having to advise our Latino parents that it would be best if they filled out some documents that would transfer legal custody of their children to caretakers of their choosing should they not return home from work because of an ICE raid. I cannot begin to tell you how it tore my heart to have to mouth such an obscenity. The animus that makes giving such advice necessary is absolutely obscene. Again the responsibility for this depravity can only be laid at the feet of one man and his devotees.
I then turned to the parish as a whole and asked them, among other actions we might take, if they were ready and willing to have ours be a Sanctuary Church. There were some questions asked about risks. Most of the questions could not be answered with any assurance that the risks could be eliminated. I then asked for permission to put it to a vote. The unanimous vote moved me so deeply and reminded me why I feel so privileged to serve these good people as their priest. Since that vote we have installed a shower and three sleeping alcoves should the need arise.
When children are made to live in fear; when families are threatened with being torn apart; when groups of people are made to be scapegoats; when human beings are treated as pawns on a political chess board; when decent people at again and again put in the position of having to make a Sophie’s choice; when unjust laws are valued more than the persons whose rights and dignity all law is intended to protect; when the lives of millions are consigned to a permanent limbo that voids the future of hope – there is only one word that can be used to describe any and all of this. That word is EVIL.
And it is into the face of evil that we now stare almost on a daily basis. And there can only ever be one response to evil, and that response must be resistance, through any and every non-violent means at our disposal. To fail to resist is to be complicit. To pretend it is not our problem is to deceive ourselves.
Yes, to resist evil is to go to the edge and to put ourselves at risk. But is this not the very place where God is most present? When we risk becoming vulnerable with those who are most vulnerable, we enter the Holy of Holies. We enter that sacred space of self-giving love that alone is able to transform us into those bearers of light that God intends us to be. We are indeed our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. We honor the memory of the Righteous and grow into the depth of our humanity by making those very choices that put our selves at risk.