100 Mile pilgrimage for migrant justice nearly complete

The journey of 100 miles is nearly complete for the over 100 women walking to Washington, D.C., from the York Detention Center in Pennsylvania to ensure their message of dignity and justice for immigrant women, families and communities is at the center of the pope’s conversation. They started the journey Sept. 15.

The pilgrimage was organized by We Belong Together. Along the way, the group has encountered mostly positive responses, according to Maria Elena Durazo, vice president of Unite Here, which represents food vendors and hospitality workers and works primarily with women of color. Durazo has participated in the last four days of the journey.

“We were taking off this morning [through Baltimore and] there was a gentleman who came out, blessed us, left for a moment and came back with a silk banner of the Vatican flag and he asked if we would carry it on the journey,” Durazo told NCR. That flag is being carried with them for the rest of the pilgrimage.

No matter what part of the state they are in “poor, black, wealthy, more of the city or less” people were honking, waving from their homes, bringing the pilgrims water and “one woman took a bucket of carnations and distributed them,” Durazo said. 

Durazo said a special button will be worn this week by members in airports and many of hotels across the country that says, “Hospitality workers love Pope Francis.” They will be in the cities Pope Francis is visiting -- New York City, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, as well as several others as far as Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas.

While she has had prior experience participating in protests, Durazo said she was drawn to this pilgrimage because it was not a protest.

“This is about how we reach out to people and convey more compassion for each other,” she said. “What better way to arrive in Washington, D.C., than with 100-plus women to represent the best of what Pope Francis is talking about.”

Monique Nguyen of Boston told NCR she wanted to participate in the walk as a way to combine her faith with an action component. Her parents were Vietnam War refugees who ended up in Canada where Nguyen was born. They moved to the U.S. and eventually back to Canada. Nguyen said they lived in the shadows and she wondered every day if her parents would still be around after she finished the school day. Nguyen said this issue touches her heart. 

She said the experience has been uplifting considering all the bad things that people have seen on the news towards immigrants so far.

“For every negative person there are 25 people who love and welcome us,” she said. “People are stopping us and giving us hugs. That’s slowed us down a bit.”

Nguyen said the group hopes to amplify the message of Pope Francis and his call to have open arms and hearts and minds for immigrants.

“The journey is the goal,” she said. “We will all leave the pilgrimage transformed. A lot of us are healing through this walk. It’s been very cathartic and uplifting.”

[Elizabeth A. Elliott, is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Contact her at eelliott@ncronline.org.]

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