Strangers No Longer hosts event at Most Holy Trinity to draw attention to squalid conditions, call for support of families

DETROIT — In a church built by Irish immigrants, parishioners from across the Archdiocese Detroit gathered July 30 to pray and call attention to the plight of migrants held in detention centers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Strangers No Longer, a lay Catholic group that advocates and supports immigrants living in Metro Detroit, hosted the Mass at Most Holy Trinity Parish in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood.

The Mass was a chance to offer prayers, hopes and frustrations to God for the families detained in what many have called sub-standard conditions at the border, said Bill O’Brien, a member of Gesu Parish in Detroit and coordinator of Strangers No Longer.

“This Mass is for the families in detention and ourselves,” O’Brien said. “We’re here to pray for ourselves, to be true to the Gospel and what Pope Francis and the bishops are calling us to do.”

A man plays the trumpet as part of a special Mass for immigrants detained at the U.S.-Mexico border July 30 at Most Holy Trinity Parish in Detroit.

Strangers No Longer has been active in the Archdiocese of Detroit for three years, with groups at 20 parishes across southeast Michigan called “Circles of Support,” which educate, advocate and assist those in need regarding immigration issues.

O’Brien said the group, which has more than 600 people on its mailing lists, helps to organize volunteers and speakers to educate people about the migration situation in Central America, and about ways advocates can assist immigrants, such as driving them to court appointments and helping families facing deportation.

The July 30 Mass was focused on praying for families detained at the border, O’Brien said.

“The Mass is an opportunity for our community to pray for those in detention, and the collection for the Mass will go to the Diocese of El Paso and the Diocese of Brownsville, who are raising funds to buy supplies for migrants — particularly the Annunciation Center at Sacred Heart Parish in El Paso, which offers a shower and meals to migrants,” O'Brien said.

Members of various churches hold signs representing their parishes during the Strangers No Longer Mass on July 30.

Representatives from 15 local parishes and other religious groups and organizations gathered at Most Holy Trinity, processing into the church with banners to show their solidarity with migrants.

During Mass, children laid flowers at a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe for children who have died while undertaking the journey to the United States.

Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hanchon, who spent much of his priestly ministry at two predominantly Hispanic parishes, St. Gabriel and Holy Redeemer in Detroit, was the main celebrant.

“By a happy coincidence, this is the feast of Solanus Casey,” Bishop Hanchon said. “So let us thank God ahead of time for immigration reform in this country. As we are called to love in the Gospel of Jesus, let the Gospel motivate us to look to reform, to look at our neighbors with humanity. It will never be important to our leaders, until it is important to us.”

Most Holy Trinity's pastor, Msgr. Charles Kosanke, delivered the homily, recounting the immigrant history of Most Holy Trinity and how the parish has been a pillar of support for people in need.

Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hanchon prays during a special Mass for migrants at Most Holy Trinity, with a portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego in the background.

“When the breadwinner in the family is deported, what happens to the basic needs of the family?” Msgr. Kosanke said. “Last Friday, during the novena to St. Anne, there was a woman in tears, because her husband was deported. I told her whatever she needs, as a parishioner, we are always a place for support.”

Readings from Leviticus and the Matthew's Gospel highlighted God’s law given to the Israelites on the treatment of foreigners and recounted Joseph taking Jesus and Mary to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod.

Msgr. Kosanke encouraged the faithful not to be angry with the immigration situation in the country, but to pray that the nation's leaders will seek reform, and that all people will see their neighbors as sons and daughters of God.

“Every person is created in the image of God; that is the value of a person,” Msgr. Kosanke said. 

The Mass allowed advocates to celebrate together and show migrants in the community that they are not alone, O’Brien said.

A young boy sits on his father's lap as he listens to Msgr. Charles Kosanke's homily.

“Tonight is an opportunity for the Catholic Church to come together in a visible way; there is a certain power in public witness,” O’Brien said. “There is a deeply spiritual dimension that needs to be nourished with this issue. For us, as American citizens, we need to see people as members of the body of Christ. Sometimes, the news can be discouraging, but this Mass shows we’re not alone.”

Following Mass, some in attendance made their way downtown to the Fox Theatre, where Democratic presidential hopefuls were debating, to draw attention to the issue of immigration.

O’Brien said immigration will always be a difficult topic to discuss, but it's always worth bringing the light of Christ to an issue that affects the lives of real people and real communities.

“I think it’s important that parishes have a sense of unity when discussing these issues,” O’Brien said. “How we talk about difficult issues is by having people with different views sharing their voices, not diminishing others', and being open to hearing the stories, the pain of others, whatever side you take. The parish is a place of unity, of coming together, to understand what people are going through.

“It’s important to remember we are all children of God,” O’Brien said. “As Pope Francis says, whatever side you are on, continue the dialogue, continue the work, because that is how we learn and grow.”

Strangers No Longer

Strangers No Longer is hosting a “Training in Advocacy” session on Aug. 23, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Our Mother of Perpetual Help Parish in Oak Park, 13500 Oak Park Drive, for those interested in forming their own Circle of Support group at their parish.