San Francisco's Jesuit Parishes intensify their outreach to immigrants and refugees

Amidst uncertain and tumultuous times, San Francisco’s two Jesuit parishes - St Agnes and St Ignatius - have reiterated and expanded their commitment to assist and support immigrants and refugees.

In response to tightening restrictions on immigration and a lack of refugee assistance in America, the two San Francisco parishes released a joint statement pledging to “not voluntarily assist or cooperate of consent to immigration enforcement activities on our grounds unless legally compelled to do so.”

The statement went on to detail more than a dozen commitments to serving immigrants and refugees which included educational programs, legal accompaniment, advocacy for refugee assistance and immigration law reform.

“Both parish communities reflect our city,” St Ignatius pastor, Jesuit Fr Greg Bonfiglio said.

“They include those who are new to this country, those who are sons and daughters of migrants, and those who trace their ancestry here back generations. We speak English, Spanish, Tagalog, Japanese, Cantonese and many other language,” Jesuit Dr Bonfiglio continued.

The St Ignatius parish already undertakes a number of outreach ministries to immigrants and refugees throughout San Francisco including food drives, help for the homeless, family counseling, Habitat for Humanity and solidarity work with immigrants and refugees. The parish also works extensively with their sister parish in El Salvador to offer aid and relief abroad.

While neither parish is home to a significant number of immigrants or refugees in need, the joint statement and public commitment to support and assist the needs of this marginalised group of people has greater significance.

“We kept hearing that it matters to people whose lives are threatened and uncertain because of the current climate that a parish like our supports them,” Jesuit Fr Bonfiglio said.

The public proclamation is the result of months of discernment on the part of St Ignatius church officials and interested parishioners. While it was agreed that church officials and parishioners alike wanted to help immigrants and refugees, many were apprehensive of offering sanctuary.

“We reflected and prayed on our call as Christians and a parish to concretely live the Gospel,” Jesuit Fr Bonfiglio said of what led his parish to a consensus.

St Agnes had declared itself a sanctuary site for immigrants and refugees several months ago. Speaking of the decision, Jesuit Fr Ray Allender said “we might have been the first Jesuit parish in the States to do that, although Mission Dolores in East Los Angeles has been working with the undocumented for years”.

A concern of both parishes following the public proclamation was that their assistance would be sought by those in need of immediate refuge and shelter. While neither church has shelter or refuge facilities, their public commitment means they will work with individuals needing assistance, as well as caseworkers and Catholic charities to find vulnerable immigrants and refugees the assistance they require.

The priests of both parishes also pointed out that San Francisco is already a sanctuary city and that the progressive political climate of the Bay Area means there is a lot of support for both parishes and their decision to support refugees and immigrants.

Here at the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle we applaud our Catholic family abroad for their commitment to assisting immigrants and refugees. The public proclamation to be of service to immigrants and refugees is very much inline with the Holy Father, Pope Francis’ New Year’s message in which he urged the faithful to open their hearts and offer assistance to immigrants and refugees.

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