by Kevin Dicciani
Hundreds of people gathered at Lovett Park in Mt. Airy last Friday night as part of a worldwide vigil to protest the conditions faced by undocumented migrants seeking asylum in the U.S.
Among those in attendance at the event, “Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps,” were members of the Chestnut Hill College community and the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia. Both the College and the Sisters of Saint Joseph joined other local organizations in co-sponsoring the northwest Philadelphia event. Coinciding “Lights for Liberty” vigils took place on the night of July 12 across all 50 states, in 13 countries, and on five continents.
Speaking at the vigil, Betsy Teutsch, who helped organize the event, said the purpose of “Lights for Liberty” was to bring people together “to protest the inhumane conditions that we are forcing upon innocent people legally seeking asylum.”
“The United States is a beacon to the world, and when the United States falters, as we have, it’s a global issue — not just an American issue,” Teutsch said.
College President Carol Jean Vale, SSJ, Ph.D., said the College and the Sisters of Saint Joseph participated in the vigil because the two teach and encourage a commitment to alleviating the suffering of the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized, especially women and children.
“The violation of the rights of those seeking refuge in the United States is appalling and disheartening,” Sister Carol said. “When I listen to reports from those who have witnessed firsthand the horrific accommodations provided for immigrants fleeing untenable situations in their own countries, I am both sickened and ashamed. Now, watching the unfolding tragedy at our southern border, I am incredulous.
“That children are being abused and treated like animals, that crowded conditions make it impossible for people to sit or lie down, that the imprisoned are denied the basic necessities of life is an altogether intolerable violation of human rights.”
The vigil in Mt. Airy saw hundreds of people come together for an evening where unity and compassion were the predominant themes. Members from local organizations, such as the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and NW Philadelphia Immigrant Action and Mobilization, spoke to the crowd and urged them to stand in solidarity with migrants, with some sharing personal stories about how they or their families immigrated to the U.S. Between speeches, the evening’s two musical acts, Two of a Kind and Voices Rising Philly, led the crowd in singing social protest songs.
Earlier on Friday, the College held an interfaith prayer service on campus near the Peace Pole. Faculty and staff formed a circle and read first-person accounts from migrants who were detained at U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention centers. The service also featured readings from the Quran by special invited guest Aziz Nathoo, an interfaith speaker, peace activist, and the Philadelphia City Lead for the Aga Khan Foundation. The foundation is an international development agency that partners with individuals, organizations, businesses, and governments to increase the quality of life in communities around the world.
Sister Carol said she hoped that Friday’s events would persuade elected officials to remedy the conditions forced upon those seeking asylum in the U.S.
“The deplorable conditions under which little children and babies are being held demand a swift response, not only from us as American citizens, but also from our elected leadership,” Sister Carol said. “That many Senators and Congressmen have chosen to be silent about this situation and have failed to act in a decisive manner to address the unjust treatment of our sisters and brothers from Central America is reprehensible. Congress has a responsibility to authorize the funding and oversight necessary to resolve this crisis, and we should hold accountable at the ballot box each representative who fails to act on behalf of the migrants.”