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8/4/2014 8:17:00 AM
Community rallies to support child immigrants
Catholic News Service


WASHINGTON — A community in Arizona is answering Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas' call for Americans, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to "be our brother's keeper" when it comes to welcoming immigrant children from Central American countries seeking a better life in the United States.

In an Arizona Daily Star editorial published in late July, Bishop Kicanas  wrote, "When we come face to face with the desperate conditions of others from outside of our country, we cannot limit or restrict our concern and efforts to help. We are called to be our brother's keeper."

Thirty miles north of Tucson, dozens in the small community of Oracle are donating their time, talent and treasure to make sure children fleeing danger in their home countries are welcomed and supported.

The initiative, known as the Have a Heart Campaign, is still in its early stages. But it hopes to convey the message that Oracle as a community "has a heart" when it comes to immigrants seeking a better life in the United States.

"We (want) to express our view that we should be a welcoming, supportive community, not a rejecting one," Oracle resident Frank Pierson told Catholic News Service in a phone interview.

Pierson is helping lead the campaign and is a parishioner at St. Helen's Catholic Church in Oracle.

The effort is in response to a string of protests that began in Murrieta, California, when hundreds carrying American flags and protest signs blocked the path of buses carrying immigrant children and families, forcing the buses to turn around before they reached the next Border Patrol station.

The inspiration for the campaign arose when parishioners of St. Helen's saw flyers around town announcing that protesters planned to stop buses headed for Sycamore Canyon Academy with dozens of migrant children.

Sycamore Canyon Academy is several miles outside Oracle, and has agreed to take in some of the unaccompanied minors coming from Central America.

"The Sunday before this supposed bus blockade was going to happen we heard about it and that was the point that some of us (at St. Helen's Catholic Church) decided that there needed to be a second voice that was not one of rejection and fear," said Pierson.

"The most powerful idea was that our community has a heart," he continued. "And the media picked up on the idea that Oracle has a heart."

The bus blockade attempt was July 15, but the buses never arrived.

Still, Pierson said, about three miles away from where protesters were planning to block the buses, those who stood with the Have a Heart Campaign were mostly locals and numbered around 100 people.

They carried signs reading "Love thy neighbor as thyself," "Oracle y tu" ("Oracle and you") "PEACE" and "Bienvenido a todos" ("Welcome all").

Pierson said the group wanted to show that they were peacemakers.

"Very thankfully, the migrant kids did not arrive at that point because they would have seen a very ugly situation. Now there's more time to reconsider how to actually handle it," he said.

The Have a Heart Campaign continues to grow in energy and interest within the community, Pierson told CNS. The campaign has reached out to Sycamore Canyon Academy, expressing its support for the school taking in migrant children.

"The director has said (the support) has been incredible because before, they felt unsupported. We've expressed our interest in organizing various individuals who have talents that might be useful under these circumstances," said Pierson.

Members of the community -- of St. Helen's Catholic Church, of other faiths and of no faith -- have reached out to Pierson looking for ways they can use their individual talents and skills to help the children when they arrive at the Academy.

"People approached us and said, 'What can we do?' Lots of people have stepped forward with time, talent and treasure," Pierson said. "That's being organized literally right now."

Many bilingual citizens of Oracle have volunteered to use their knowledge of the Spanish language to foster communication with the children; others hope to put skills in areas such as arts and crafts to use for the benefit of the kids.

Pierson noted the diversity of those stepping up to offer assistance.

"There's a real broad support here overall for a humane response to these children," he said.

Forty to 50 children are expected to be housed at Sycamore Canyon Academy.

When they do arrive, the Have a Heart Campaign and many in the community of Oracle will set to work in welcoming and supporting the children to show that Oracle "has a heart."

"This is a kind of a test of a community's caring, and the depth of how their faith traditions intersect with public life. My personal view is that we feel this is part of our calling," Pierson said. "We want to be really clear on that. We want to respond to situations like this in a positive and compassionate way."





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