By Tim Harfmann
“Absolutely terrified” is how Father John McKenna described the growing tension in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, a community with a large Hispanic population.
“I think they’re absolutely terrified,” he said, with residents living in fear as federal ICE agents continue to target nearly 2,000 immigrants across the country. There have been no reported arrests in New York City.
Father McKenna is one of the priests ministering to Catholics at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. On July 14 he received text messages from a woman whose sister had unexpected visitors: ICE agents.
“All the people in the apartment house just called each other and said, ‘Don’t open up! Don’t open up,” he said.
Father Ruskin Piedra shared a similar story. He provides legal services to immigrants and met yesterday with those targeted by ICE.
“They raise their voice, ‘Open this door!’ and so on. What happened in one of the buildings is that the outside door was open. They couldn’t get through the second door. That’s where the shouting started,” he explained.
Working with organizations and local politicians, the parish is stepping in to help immigrants, even handing out flyers with their rights.
“Makes no difference what their situation is, they have rights, by law, in the United States,” said Father James Gilmour, Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s pastor.
Even with protecting the families’ identities, the three priests did not have much information about who these families are because they said status doesn’t matter.
“We don’t ask if you’re Catholic, non-Catholic, registered… You’re a human being, you’re in need, and that’s the way we see people,” said Father Ruskin.
“The law may not see you as a child of God. That’s the first thing we do.”
These Brooklyn priests vow to stand with immigrants, along with clerics across the country.
Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich wrote a letter to the priests in his own archdiocese, urging them not to let federal agents into churches without identification or a warrant.