By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published July 5, 2007
Area Catholics joined members of the Muslim and Jewish faith communities at an interfaith prayer service in downtown Atlanta June 21 to support the dignity of immigrants.
In a statement read at the prayer service, local religious leaders, including Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, urged people to debate changes to the country’s immigration laws without degrading immigrants.
Reading from the Quran and offering Christian prayers, those at the prayer service said people of faith are called to show mercy to immigrants.
Imam Plemon El-Amin, president of Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta, said political leaders and all people must show a greater sense of compassion for immigrants.
It is a “universal value that every human being has value … and must be respected and protected,” said Imam El-Amin at the “In the Light of Love” service held at Central Presbyterian Church.
The interfaith gathering took place several days before a vote in the U.S. Senate effectively killed a proposed revision of the country’s immigration law.
In their statement, Archbishop Gregory, Imam El-Amin and Rabbi Scott Saulson, chaplain at the Atlanta Jewish Center, urged a halt to a debate they believe smears the immigrant community.
“Defaming, diminishing and dismissing newcomers as less than human strikes us as neither very faith-filled nor very American. Our concern is with family, civic, and faith values,” said the statement signed by the religious leaders.
The three urged that morality guide the political debate surrounding illegal immigration. “Legal status in civil law is important, but it is not a final measure of humanity,” said the statement.
Msgr. Luis Zamara, representing the archdiocese at the service, said many immigrants are coming here to improve their lives, which benefits the United States.
“We are so rich because this country opened its doors to so many cultures,” he said.
Msgr. Zamara, vicar general, said immigrants have a difficult journey to make it to this country, just like the Israelites wandered in the desert before God took them to the Promised Land.
“In the dreams of many people, for their lives, this is the promised land,” he said.
Some 50 people attended the noontime prayer service, including several from St. Jude Church, Sandy Springs, where the influx of newcomers has changed the parish. Immigrants worship at the church where Masses are in Spanish and Portuguese as well as English.
Ellen Howe, 57, a retired parochial school teacher, said some people opposed to immigration reform speak out of fear while others do not have a complete understanding of the immigration issue.
“There’s a lot of myths that they hear,” said Howe. “Our faith calls us to come here. Welcoming the stranger is just who we are as Catholic Christians.”
Tim Sprull, 43, an attorney and St. Jude parishioner, said immigration stirs up a lot of feelings during discussions at the parish. Sprull said most people have “benign ignorance” about issues surrounding immigration, repeating what they hear from political pundits.