60,000 strong. And in Philadelphia, with a distinctly Irish tenor.
Last night, St. Laurence Parish in Upper Darby hosted a prayer vigil for immigration.
Members of the Indonesian, Irish, African American and Latino community carried candles in a procession that started at the Irish Immigration Center in Upper Darby, then crossed West Chester Pike to the church for an hour of prayers, testimonies, petitions and hymns.
75 people heard the testimonies of two immigrants -- one currently undocumented and one who had gone through the long process of documentation -- as well as petitions in English and Spanish for the welfare of the nation and families. They intoned prayers and blessings for the legislators facing the task of crafting comprehensive immigration reform in the upcoming months. Then, they prayed the "Our Father" in Gaelic, and sang the concluding hymn to Our Lady of Knock-- the 19th century apparition of Mary in Knock, County Mayo, Ireland (approved by the Catholic Church in 1971) and beloved of the Irish immigrant community.
After praying together, many of the participants returned to the Irish Immigration Center to be part of a "listening party" -- a national teleconferenced town hall meeting.
The teleconference outlined immigration reform legislation that Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) proposes to present to Congress. Those gathered for the national event were asked to listen, and then share their thoughts and concerns about the proposed legislation.
"We need everyone on this call to take action with your churches, your families and your organizations so that we can deliver a strong message to President Obama and Congress that, hey, it has been a year... We want you to keep your promise to our families," Gutierrez said.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) were also part of the teleconference -- which drew more than 60,000 participants across the nation, according to Reform Immigration for America (the organization which organized the teleconferenced event).
"[The legislators] shared with the listeners their positive hope that we can move ahead," said Msgr. Hugh Shields, vicar for Hispanic Catholics of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
He acknowledged that a number of undocumented immigrants who knew about the prayer vigil and the teleconference were reluctant to attend either event for fear of possible repercussions. Many fear detention which would separate family members or strand minor children in the country alone.
"Immigration reform would enable them to come out of shadows," Msgr. Shields said."
Photos by Sarah Webb for the Catholic Standard & Times