NEW YORK, NY -- As millions listen to Pope Francis during his six-day U.S. trip talk about immigration, poverty, climate change and justice, many religious institutions beyond the Catholic church have been putting the Pontiff’s message into action by bringing different communities together far from the television lights and the security barricades.
The Iglesia de Sion, a predominantly Latino Lutheran church located at St. Peter's Church in midtown Manhattan, hosted an event Friday afternoon, less then two miles away from where Pope Francis later held his evening mass at Madison Square Garden. The event was primarily for those who were “sin tickets” (“without tickets”), some of the city’s most vulnerable people, including undocumented immigrants, carwasheros (car washers), day laborers and 5 mothers from Ayotzinapa, Mexico, who had come to the U.S. with the hope of meeting the Pontiff to ask him to intervene on their behalf.
“We have already walked 12 months in search of our children,” said Hilda Hernández Rivera, one of the mothers of the 43 indigenous students in Mexico who disappeared one year ago today.
While Ayotzinapa families concluded a 43-hour fast yesterday, and marched on Mexico City demanding justice for their children, the five indigenous mothers tried to gain more support in the U.S., especially after President Enrique Peña Nieto rejected a petition for an internationally supervised investigation.
Hernández linked the pain of their families in Mexico with the pain of marginalized Latinos in the U.S. And she explained in an interview with NBC News yesterday that her faith as a “devout Catholic” compels her and other Ayotzinapa families to reach out to Pope Francis for support, and join him in his mission for justice and peace.
For many people of faith, their religion is like a journey that can lead them to higher levels of consciousness. And the Ayotzinapa tragedy not only motivated people to come together, but encouraged them to look beyond borders to find solutions for different problems.
Even though Pope Francis has similarly called on government leaders to unite as a global community, his U.S. visit divided people unintentionally.
“Because of security reasons, people ‘sin ticket’ [without ticket] today are like the undocumented,” said Rev. Fabian Arias, senior pastor at the Lutheran Church of Sion, in an interview with NBC News. “The ticket gets you closer to listen to… touch or see the Pope… and security fences, boundaries, and borders keep the most vulnerable out," he said.
New York is often described as the institutional capital of the world—home of the United Nations, consulates, corporations, banks, churches and other national and international organizations. But over the last few years, the city has also become an important meeting place for activists—including Occupy Wall Street and the People’s Climate March—who are pooling their experiences and resources to address important global issues like drug violence, poverty, immigration and climate change.
In this sense, the Sion event was like an early sketch, a blueprint of how future movements might organize. On Friday, the Ayotzinapa mothers were joined by other human rights activists from Latin America and the U.S., including another group of mothers from Hermosillo, Mexico, who are looking for international support to solve a deadly case about a day care fire that killed 49 children and injured 100 in 2009.
“When one is willing to overcome barriers and difficulties, one can reach the heart of the other,” said Argentinian Rabbi Daniel Goldman at the Sion event. And as Pope Francis, the self-proclaimed son of immigrants, pleads Americans for greater unity, those who attended the event felt that small churches all over the country will need to become bridges to help rebuild communities.