By Marge Bitetti
ADELANTO—Catholics of the Diocese joined Bishop Gerald Barnes in the High Desert on January 14 to pray in solidarity with and for migrants.
It began with a 12 noon Rosary with a special intention for immigrants suffering in detention. Symbolically, the prayer service was held across the street from the Adelanto Detention Facility, which has gained notoriety in the past year for reported hunger strikes, suicide attempts and three deaths. Members of the clergy who joined Bishop Barnes in the Rosary included Father Canice Nwizu, Administrator of Christ the Good Shepherd, Adelanto; Father Tomas Guillen; and Father Delwyn Haroldson, Pastor of Our Lady of the Desert, Apple Valley. Deacon Santos Aguilera and Diocesan Seminarian Luis Angeles were also present.
“I am blessed to be here and represent the other seminarians who always pray for them and all refugees,” said Angeles, who shared that his family are immigrants so he feels a special closeness to those being detained. Prayers were offered that those being detained have access to good and safe health care, that they are treated humanely that their requests for access to religious services be honored. Prayers were also offered for the families of those currently at the Adelanto Detention Center that they may be given the strength to endure the pain caused by separation.
The Bishop lead those gathered to pray for the eventual closing of the Adelanto Detention Center and all for-profit detention facilities, that people may be awoken to the injustice of a system that builds profits on the incarceration of people.
Following Rosary the faithful journeyed ten miles north to Holy Innocents Church in Victorville to celebrate the 12th Annual Diocesan Migration Mass with Bishop Barnes.
The Migration Mass serves as a showcase for the multicultural gifts of the Diocese, as participants attend in native attire and offer prayer and readings in their native language. Given recent government actions and reported statements, the people chosen to proclaim the Mass readings were significant.
The first scripture reading was proclaimed by Marjorie St. Louis, an immigrant from Haiti, in her native Creole. The second reading was proclaimed by Maria Hortencia, a Nicaraguan refugee representing a people who are adversely affected by the recent ending of Temporary Protected Status.
Abraham Joven, Director of Advocacy & Justice for Immigrants for the Diocese of San Bernardino, stated that the participants for the Universal Prayer were selected because they represent communities that are heavily incarcerated at the Adelanto Detention Center. The Universal Prayer was offered in Korean, Igbo, Haitian Creole, Tongan and Spanish,
Presentation of the gifts was made by two families that that were negatively affected by immigration enforcement: one losing a family member to deportation, the other being separated because a family member was in detention at the Adelanto facility.
Bishop Barnes’ homily centered on the reading from 1 Samuel 3:10-19. He noted that just as Samuel received a call from God, our call to the Christian life leads us on a mission to those we live with and those who live on the peripheries of society. He said the Church is concerned for immigrants in detention, with how they are treated and for their health and faith.
A touching testimony was given by Nita Pomee, a Tongan immigrant who was a police officer in her native country. She has five children four who were born in the United States and are U.S. citizens. In October 2008, after she dropped her children off at school a police officer pulled her over and it was later determined that her VISA had expired. She was taken to the police station and from there transported to a detention center in San Diego. For an entire week she was not able to communicate with her husband and her children. Eventually her bail was set at $5,600 so that she could return to her family. She had many court dates and appearances and finally, after her daughter turned 21 she was able to file a petition for her mother’s release. Pomee stated, “Detention is just the beginning of the journey.”
After the Mass, Bishop Barnes addressed the derogatory comments that had recently been attributed to President Donald Trump about some nations from which immigrants come.
“As an American I apologize for what the President said, but my main concern is how these words effect our children,” he said. “Let us pray that the leaders of our country may put aside prejudice and that the people of our county may rise above this and be as one as a family.”
Marge Bitetti is a freelance writer and a parishioner of St. Matthew in Corona.