Archdiocese Local

Forum puts a human face on the plight of immigrants

Shawnee Mission North senior Yanir Fernandez-Alvarez, left, listens and then translates for his mother, Liliana Alvarez, as she recalls a moment in her family’s arduous journey from Mexico to the United States. Alvarez shared her story as part of a roundtable discussion at an immigration forum Nov. 13 at Good Shepherd Parish, Shawnee. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

by Jacob Martin
Special to The Leaven

SHAWNEE — When it comes to the issues of immigration and migration, there is no “us versus them,” said Deacon Bill Scholl, who was part of a roundtable discussion and forum on Nov. 13 at Good Shepherd Parish here.

Instead, he said, there is “we.”

The event was facilitated by pastor Father Kent O’Connor; Deacon Scholl, consultant for the archdiocesan office of social justice; and Father Ramiro Sanchez Chan, CS, director of the archdiocesan office of Hispanic ministry.

Father Ramiro Sanchez Chan, CS, director of the archdiocesan office of Hispanic ministry, speaks to those gathered for the immigration forum while Good Shepherd, Shawnee, pastor Father Kent O’Connor listens. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Anabella Wasserman, pastoral assistant for the archdiocesan office of Hispanic ministry, organized and coordinated the event.

In addition to the roundtable discussion, the forum included conversations involving parishioners who shared their experiences of migrating to the United States, and a brief Q&A period.

Deacon Scholl, in his presentation, expanded on the concept of “we” within the Catholic community. Although there may appear to be two otherwise different demographics within a parish, both are part of a larger congregation, and both are equally important to unite the ministry as one, he said.

Deacon Bill Scholl,consultant for the archdiocesan office of social justice, speaks about the concept of “we” during the immigration forum held at Good Shepherd Parish in Shawnee. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

The archdiocese’s message of “we” is even more important as the uncertainty surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt many people’s lives, he continued, especially by those who were already in need.

Deacon Scholl’s message echoed Pope Francis’ 2021 “Message of the Holy Father for the 107th World Day of Migrants and Refugees.” This message asked Catholics to remember that “we” are all in the same boat and are being called to work together to ensure no one is left behind as we build a stronger future of justice and peace.

Deacon Scholl said this needs to be kept in mind when discussing the inclusion of immigrants and migrants.

“The current system is not working, so we have waves of immigrants who come, and we don’t know what to do with them, and a humanitarian crisis erupts,” said Deacon Scholl. “We have been great when we have been ‘we’ — meaning, we are a nation of immigrants.”

Maria Madrigal speaks about her personal experience of leaving Mexico as her husband Miguel Madrigal and other Good Shepherd parishioners listen. Maria and Miguel are from different states in Mexico. They met in California. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

He said most immigrants come to the United States legally but for various reasons can lose their legal status. Under many circumstances, it is not a crime to be here without lawful status, and this is considered a civil matter rather than a criminal one.

“I think a great, simple mission is to challenge this notion of ‘illegal,’” said Deacon Scholl. “It actually has the effect of making people seem less than human.”

The second part of the forum was a roundtable discussion between parishioners and members of Good Shepherd who have immigrated to Kansas from their native lands. The focus of the discussion was fostering an environment where members of the community would have a “bridge” to discuss and ask questions to someone who had firsthand knowledge of the obstacles immigrants face.

Those who attended the immigration forum were able to hear personal stories from local immigrants. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Those who migrated or immigrated shared their experiences openly, sometimes with the help of translators. They talked about the journey each experienced coming to Kansas, the day-to-day obstacles they experience in the United States, ongoing issues in their native countries and the dynamics which have impacted their families as the result of immigration or migration.

Following the Q&A period, Deacon Scholl and Father Ramiro offered closing remarks as to their hopes regarding immigration and migration in the community, and what can be done to help those in need.

“Learn about the issue, commit to combat the ‘us versus them’ narrative, have a conversation and spread the knowledge,” said Deacon Scholl. “And if you want to go deeper, I encourage people to go to [the website at:] and sign up for the action alerts.

“But I think we just need to start having a conversation, and the church needs to bridge the gap and bring both sides together to help them find common ground.”

About the author

The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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