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Hispanics trying prayers as shortcut over border

Daniel González
The Arizona Republic
May. 11, 2005 12:00 AM
Concerned about the growing animosity toward undocumented immigrants epitomized by armed civilian patrols at the U.S.-Mexican border, some Hispanic Catholics hope to solve the illegal immigration problem through a different sort of tactic: prayer.

Last month, organizers of a prayer campaign distributed thousands of white ribbons at Catholic churches throughout Arizona asking parishioners to pray for a resolution that "respects the dignity of the person."

The Arizona campaign will continue for two months.

But on Tuesday, national Catholic church leaders in Washington, D.C., launched a major campaign aimed at garnering support among the nation's 67.3 million Catholics for comprehensive immigration changes, including a broad legalization program for undocumented immigrants. There are about 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, according to the latest estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center.

The national campaign is supported by 20 Catholic organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. One main goal is to counter growing anti-immigrant fervor that has led to citizens trying to enforce immigration laws and the enactment of restrictive immigration laws, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, D.C., said at a news conference.

The church faces an uphill battle, said Rick Oltman, western field director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, an organization in Washington, D.C., that favors tighter immigration restrictions.

"I don't think they are going to be able to overcome the pubic sentiment calling for the government to enforce our immigration laws," Oltman said. "The majority of Americans are sympathetic to the plight of people who are trying to better themselves but . . . realize we can't take everyone."

In Arizona, organizers are collecting prayer cards and holding community meetings throughout the state. The campaign will culminate with recommendations organizers plan to present to state and national political, business and religious leaders in July.

"Instead of fear and divisiveness, we believe the solution is appealing to the moral conscience of the nation," said former state Sen. Armando Ruiz, director of Mary's Ministries, a Catholic-based organization in Phoenix leading the campaign.

Ruiz said the prayer campaign was organized in response to the Minuteman Project, a group of armed civilians who patrolled a 23-mile stretch of the Mexican border in southern Arizona in April to report undocumented immigrants to the U.S. Border Patrol.Volunteers in the prayer campaign distributed 125,000 white ribbons at more than 60 parishes throughout the state. The ribbons are intended to be worn as a sign of solidarity for a "just" solution to the immigration problem, he said.

The campaign received support from the three Catholic bishops serving Arizona: the Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix, the Rev. Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, and the Rev. Donald E. Pelotte of Gallup, N.M., he said.

Reach the reporter at daniel.gonzalez@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8312.


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