By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published April 16, 2009
A circular saw, a pickax, a shovel and other construction tools were put at the foot of the wooden cross as the procession of more than 200 men, women, teens and children in strollers left Our Lady of Americas Mission on Tuesday, April 7, for the third day of the six-day pilgrimage.
Called the 2009 Holy Week Pilgrimage for Immigrants, the walkers covered nearly 50 miles in daily segments around metro Atlanta and northeast Georgia.
“It is a spiritual pilgrimage. We lift up prayer. We are praying with our feet. The separations of families due to deportation is not a loving and holy act,” said Anton Flores, an organizer of the walk and leader of the Christina Alterna Community, which encourages a life of simplicity and support for migrants. Organizers for the first-time event called for an end of law enforcement raids that separate families, the passage of immigration reform measures and the revision of trade policies that promote unauthorized immigration.
From Gainesville and Lawrenceville to Lilburn to Duluth, the group marched. They walked with Jesus’ suffering in mind. Walkers washed each other’s feet on Holy Thursday in the Marietta Square. On Good Friday, the group joined the Stations of the Cross taking place in downtown Atlanta planned by the Parish and Social Justice Ministries of Catholic Charities Atlanta.
The group also stopped at Gwinnett Sheriff’s Department offices and Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices.
A variety of religious and advocacy groups organized the week’s walk. Several Catholic churches offered hospitality to the walkers, including St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Smyrna, St. Patrick Church, Norcross, St. Michael Church, Gainesville.
On the cold Tuesday morning, a festive atmosphere greeted the Latino crowd in the mission’s gym. A mural of Our Lady of Guadalupe watched over them. Relying on their faith as they feel the law is against them, the old and young clapped their hands to folk songs in Spanish with lyrics of: “I have a lawyer, her name is Virgin Mary. If you care to know the name of my lawyer, his name is Jesus.”
“We give you our tired spirit of all this injustice,” he prayed.
Later, the walkers pulled on knit caps and hooded winter coats as they left Our Lady of the Americas Mission Church. A mix of hail and rain fell.
Lucio Castrejon, 40, who works in a construction-related business, said he came out to support his community.
“You can see how everything goes against these people,” said Castrejon, who is Mexican-American.
He said if the government legalized undocumented people that would spur the economy as they spend money to buy cars and homes.
“They are trying to get the better opportunity in life,” he said.
Miguel Gomez, 29, who worships at St. John Neumann Church, Lilburn, said it makes sense to hold a pilgrimage during Holy Week.
Mayra Garcia, left, and her sister Maria, right, carry the banner with Griselda Garcia (no relation) as the Interfaith Pilgrimage for Immigrants makes its way up Indian Trail-Lilburn Road in Gwinnett County.
“I see Jesus suffering through his last days. I see a lot of people suffering through the same way,” he said.
The walk is important to show how immigration laws are flawed. People who are here illegally are not criminals, he said.
“They are hardworking people” who live in fear their families will be split up, he said.