December 6, 2019 — When 270 Jesuits West leaders gathered this September for a Province-wide workshop, Provincial Fr. Scott Santarosa, SJ, challenged the group to flex its “Jesuit muscle” against injustice. This fall, Jesuits West ministries did just that, taking action to advocate for the environment and immigrants.
September 20 marked the Global Climate Strike, and a number of Jesuits West schools took part in their respective cities. Schools participating included the University of San Francisco; Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles; Loyola High School of Los Angeles; Cristo Rey High School Sacramento; Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix; Seattle Preparatory School; Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon; and Bellarmine Preparatory School in San Jose, California, among others.
In addition to participating in the climate strike, Jesuit High Portland students built raised garden beds on campus this fall and made a commitment to reduce greenhouse emissions through initiatives that include shutting off lights during 5th period across campus; encouraging students and staff to bring meatless meals and serving only meatless meals in the cafeteria on Fridays; and encouraging students and staff to bike, take public transportation, or carpool to school.
The Jesuit parish in Portland, St. Ignatius Church, worked with local interfaith partner EcoFaith Recovery to advocate for the reduction of fossil fuel use in Oregon.
Jesuits West also came together forcefully to advocate for immigrants this fall.
In October, Fr. Santarosa and the five other U.S. and Canadian Jesuit Provincials, along with Jesuit Conference President Fr. Timothy Kesicki, SJ, met with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) leadership in Washington, D.C., to advocate on behalf of people seeking asylum in the United States.
The Jesuits pressed DHS leadership for a welcoming and humane asylum policy at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Stressing the real-life consequences of these policies, Jesuit Provincials told DHS officials harrowing stories of migrants in their regions and voiced their concern over the detention of migrants for months or years as they await their immigration hearings, sometimes in very poor conditions. Rather than incarcerate asylum seekers, they argued, the department should reinstate and expand community-based family case management plans, which uphold the dignity and human rights of migrants.
Fr. Santarosa said that the current immigration policy is “a betrayal of our identity as a country of immigrants.” He called on Americans to “use our voices collectively to make our country more the country we believe it should be — more the country it wants to be. What does that mean? It means putting our own credibility on the line and saying, ‘I believe in this.’”
Across the Province, Jesuits West apostolates also embraced Fr. Santarosa’s call to lift their voices on behalf of migrants and asylum seekers. In San Francisco, Ignatian ministries worked together to collect cards for Congress, calling for better protections for migrants. The ministries plan to deliver the cards to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. At St. Ignatius Parish in San Francisco, parishioners packed their sleeping bags for a Migrant Solidarity Sleep-in. Through prayer and education, the congregation called for an end to family separation and migrant detention.
Other parishes also took action. Members of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Missoula, Montana, gathered at a vigil to pray for migrants in October. Parishioners from St. Ignatius Church in Portland met with Senator Ron Wyden’s field manager, joined by two seniors from St. Mary’s Academy and one senior from Jesuit High who were interning at the office and sat in on the conversation.
A group from St. Aloysius Parish in Spokane, Washington, immersed themselves in the issues at the U.S.-Mexico border. During a weeklong migration education program, parishioners traveled into the Sonoran Desert near Nogales, Arizona, where many migrants make the dangerous crossing into the U.S. They also met with migrant families and the ministries that help them, such as the Kino Border Initiative, which is co-sponsored by six U.S. and Mexican church groups, including the Jesuits.
Other parishes opened their doors to migrants in need. After years of instability, a migrant family found refuge at Our Lady of Guadalupe in San Diego.
At the Province’s schools, students took up the call for solidarity through legislative meetings and letter writing campaigns. Over one hundred students at Seattle Prep signed letters urging their elected representatives to recognize the human dignity of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
In Los Angeles, a group of Loyola High School students who are directly impacted by immigration policies joined Proyecto Pastoral — a community building organization at the Jesuits’ Dolores Mission Parish in Los Angeles — in a meeting with Congressman Jimmy Gomez to share their family stories.
A vigil organized by all the Jesuit apostolates in the Phoenix area, including students at Brophy College Prep, gathered over 100 people at Arizona Senator Martha McSally’s office to advocate for asylum seekers. At Santa Clara University in California, the community gathered at a prayer service for those suffering at the border and held a campus clothing drive for migrants, and Gonzaga University held a call-in day of action and a vigil and march in Spokane.
Other actions showed the variety of ways to engage the Jesuit muscle against injustice: from a Jesuit in Orange County asking questions of his congressperson at a town hall meeting to Jesuit high schools in Sacramento producing a play about immigration to the Ignatian Spirituality Center hosting a teach in on discernment on the issue of immigration in Seattle.
Annie Fox, Provincial Assistant for Social Ministry Organizing for the Province, said that the response from Jesuits West ministries has been overwhelming. “Jesuit ministries have been doing incredible work on immigration and climate change for a number of years, but to see this amazing group of discerners and activists come together and really flex that Jesuit muscle, it reminds us of the power our ministries can have to confront systems of injustice when we really work together. I can’t wait to see what we do next!”
The advocacy work will continue, thanks in part to the “Arrupe Delegates” program that the Province is launching, which will include training in community organizing and programming, exploring how best to harness and use the Province’s collective voice. Forty-five Arrupe Delegates have already signed up for the discernment series, which “will help us determine how to keep this collaboration deepening and growing,” said Fox.