‘Pilgrimage of Hope’ to raise awareness of immigrants’ plight in California’s Central Valley

By Pat McCaughan
Posted Apr 23, 2019

San Joaquin Bishop David Rice, left, the Rev. Anna Carmichael, the diocese’s canon to the ordinary, center, and the Rev. Nancy Key, deacon, right, take part in a Prayer of Vision, Witness and Justice — an offsite event of the 79th General Convention in July 2018 — near the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a detention facility in Taylor, Texas, housing 500 female migrants and asylum-seekers. Photo: Cindy Smith/Diocese of San Joaquin

[Episcopal News Service] Roberta Murrieta-May intends to walk at least part of the 173 miles from Fresno to Sacramento, California, because more people — especially undocumented immigrants and asylum-seekers — need hope.

The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin’s May 4-20 Pilgrimage of Hope “is a very honorable thing to do, with all the people in our culture today who don’t care about immigrants,” said Murrieta-May.

Murrieta-May, 54, learned of the pilgrimage on April 10 while visiting the food bank at St. James Cathedral in Fresno, across the street from her home.

“All of us are immigrants, or related to immigrants,” she said in a telephone interview with Episcopal News Service. Noting that most people in this country are descended from immigrants, she said, “More people need to care about those who are coming here because of danger, because of fear. We need to raise awareness about them.”

San Joaquin Bishop David Rice said the pilgrimage, a march to raise awareness about the plight of undocumented persons and refugees, will begin May 4 after a celebration of the Eucharist and a blessing at St. James Cathedral in Fresno.

From there, pilgrims will walk north approximately 17 miles per day, until they reach Sacramento, the state capital, on May 20, and join with other activists and faith groups in observance of California’s Immigrant Day of Action.

“I’ll be walking every day and every mile,” said Rice. “It’s going to be a lovely outward and visible sign of what we believe. It is not only making a visible statement about what we believe and to whom we belong, but it is also about raising awareness, not only for our larger context, but raising awareness within it, too.”

California’s Central Valley produces over a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts, attracting undocumented farm labor.

Rice said there are approximately 2.8 million undocumented immigrants in California, more than any other state.

For those who are seeking a pathway to citizenship, it “is expensive, it is time-intensive and results in people living in constant fear of deportation or detention,” Rice said.

He added, “When we become aware of what is going on in our larger context, when we hear the voices of the other, if we don’t respond, then we are complicit in the systems that form those voices.”

Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Methodist and Episcopal congregations will offer hospitality and lodging to pilgrims along the way, and while no formal tally of participants is available, Rice hopes “others will join us.”

The Rev. Terrance Goodpasture, a deacon at the Fresno cathedral and a pilgrimage organizer, said he expects partners such as Faith in the Valley to participate in the walk. Faith in the Valley, a Central California grassroots advocacy organization, is part of PICO California, the largest faith-based community organizing network in the state, with more than 485 congregational members.

Some pilgrims will join for part of the walk; others will complete the entire 173 miles, he said. The pilgrims will pause at regular intervals for prayer; those who are unable to physically join the walk can pray along as well, with a booklet available for purchase on the pilgrimage website. Cost of the booklet is $10; any funds raised will go toward aiding the undocumented.

The idea for the pilgrimage began to take shape in 2017, after delegates to the 58th annual diocesan convention passed a resolution to form an immigration task force, which was primarily focused on education and advocacy issues, said the Rev. Anna Carmichael, the diocese’s canon to the ordinary.

“We wanted people in our pews to understand what our neighbors were going through and how we could be a resource for our neighbors,” Carmichael said. “For us, this isn’t political, it’s responding to the call to love your neighbor as yourself.

“We started to build energy around immigration issues in the Central Valley.”

Then came Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s November 2018 revival. Its theme, “Called to Be a Safe Place for All of God’s People,” emphasized a bold, inclusive vision of faith and love.

“We focused on immigration issues and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals),” she said, adding that the revival included a prayer walk around the cathedral’s Fresno neighborhood.

Other consultations followed, with the Rev. Anthony Guillén, Episcopal Church missioner for Latino/Hispanic ministries, and with the neighboring Los Angeles diocese’s Episcopal Sacred Resistance Task Force on Immigration.

Meanwhile, San Joaquin’s immigration task force had morphed into SJRAISE — San Joaquin Refugee and Immigration Support for Empowerment, and at an Advent conference, clergy and lay leaders began to dream of a pilgrimage.

“One where we, along with other faith communities and friends, would walk the diocese, engaging in formation and prayer along the way, regarding the needs and concerns of our immigrant brothers and sisters,” Carmichael said.

“That first day, we’re going to walk about 17 miles, and that will get us just outside Fresno,” she said. “It’s important, because this is our best attempt to make a visible and faithful expression of how we feel God is calling us. It is not meant to be political grandstanding,” she said.

“This is ultimately about calling for justice so that we can fully live into our Baptismal Covenant of respecting the dignity of every human being. I see this as quite possibly one of the most important things this diocese has done since its resurrection.”

(In 2008, the diocese reorganized after a breakaway group, led by a former bishop, attempted to leave The Episcopal Church. The Diocese of San Joaquin has since gained new life.)

“If we don’t stand with those who are being penalized and marginalized, just because of where they were born, just because they don’t have the same kind of documentation [as I do] because I was born here, what are we all about? What is the point of proclaiming to be followers of Jesus if we aren’t living into that call?

“It would almost make me feel hypocritical as a person of faith not to stand with those who are being marginalized and persecuted,” Carmichael said.

Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Methodist congregations have been very enthusiastic about hosting and offering hospitality to the pilgrims. “They’ve been awesome, amazing. They’ve all been so positive and enthusiastic and really welcoming about what we’re doing,” said Goodpasture.

Once the pilgrims arrive in Sacramento, Rice said they aim to engage with legislators and lawmakers concerning a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and asylum-seekers.

“This is about addressing a system that needs to be reformed,” added Rice, who in 2015 led a bicycle Tour Against Trafficking to raise awareness about human trafficking.

“We are painfully aware that it is easy for politicians and for the faith community to say we’re praying for them and to let those simply be words. We need this. God needs this to be more than words. We are endeavoring to ensure that those words are about action.”

— The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.