By: The Rt. Rev. David C. Rice
The Journey from Fresno to Sacramento - Honoring the Dignity of Immigrants
Greetings from the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. Twelve days ago, I joined members of our Diocese’s Immigration Task Force (SJRAISE) on the Pilgrimage of Hope. We are in the midst of walking 226 miles from our Cathedral in Fresno to the state Capitol in California.
Why are we walking? We are walking to raise awareness regarding the status and plight of our immigrant and refugee communities particularly those who are left wondering where they might be from day to day. In addition, we are walking to raise money for “legal defense funds,” as the immigration system is the only area of U.S. law where detained people must advocate for their freedom without the guarantee of legal representation.
And finally, we are walking and will descend upon the State Capitol on May 20th to join the statewide “Immigrant Day of Action”.
At the Immigrant Day of Action, we will stand in solidarity with approximately 1,000 community leaders who have come together from all over the state to defend the dignity of every human being. Hand in hand with interfaith and secular community leaders, we will call for the passage of five bills to advance community health, shared prosperity, and racial justice for all Californians - including our immigrant brothers and sisters. Among these is the “Health for All Act,” which recognizes that no one should suffer or die from a treatable condition, no matter where they were born.
The impetus and design of the walk was born at our 2017 Diocesan Convention, where we voted unanimously to establish an Immigration Task Force which is called SJRAISE (San Joaquin Refugee and Immigrant Support and Empowerment). The purpose of SJRAISE has been to gather information regarding the plight of our immigrant and refugee sisters and brothers and to seek ways to engage the diocese in educative and formation work concerning this significant part of our population and to consider how we might respond as a Faith Community. Coupled with the extraordinary work of SJRAISE, an idea was birthed at our Advent Clergy Conference in 2018. We believed we were inspired to go on Pilgrimage and the purpose of this walk began to crystallize very rapidly.
I write these words from St John the Baptist in Lodi. Today, we walked 12.3 miles from Stockton to Lodi. Thus far we have walked 164.4 miles. As we completed Day twelve of our Pilgrimage, most of our walking has followed agricultural roads laden with almond groves, grape vineyards and paddocks filled with tomatoes and peppers and a wide variety of citrus groves. What we have noticed over the last five days is the overwhelming number of Latinxs working in those groves and paddocks and fields. These are our brothers and sisters working in the larger contexts in which most of Episcopal Faith Communities are located. The Central Valley is home to beautiful diversity, including many immigrant and refugees communities from Asia and the Middle East.
I wish to say that we, travelers, have been the recipients of stunning hospitality along the way. We have received care and hospitality from Episcopal, United Methodist, Lutheran and Roman Catholic Communities. In addition, we have been treated inordinately well and respectively by motorists and commercial drivers along the way. It is our prayer that all Californians treat immigrants with the same compassion we received – the same compassion all of us would hope for when we are in need.
We continue to walk because we believe we are called to walk the way of Jesus. We are convicted that our very purpose is to identify those who are most marginalized, those who are far too often invisible in our society and to hear their voices. We are convinced that when we allow ourselves to hear their voices that the Holy Spirit urges us to consider who we might respond.
This Pilgrimage of Hope is a small part of our response.
Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin