By Berta Mexidor and Linda Reeves
CARTHAGE – Bishop Joseph Kopacz travelled to Carthage and Kosciusko Sept. 29, World Day of Migrants and Refugees, to celebrate Mass and to visit Hispanic families of the two parishes affected by the federal immigration raids this past summer.
Mass celebrations were held at both St. Therese in Kosciusko and St. Anne in Carthage bringing families together in faith and as one big Catholic family. “I have been listening to every opinion, in favor and against, but everybody agrees the immigration system needs a change,” said Bishop Kopacz at one point, during Mass at St. Therese, as he talked about the broken immigration system and the call for change by people from across America.
Bishop Kopacz informed parishioners that only hours after the raids Aug. 7 on Mississippi food processing plants, people from around the country responded with support and concern for those family members involved. More than 700 workers, many undocumented immigrants, were jailed and separated from loved ones.
Donations poured into Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Jackson from 40 different states and several organizations. “The willingness to help reflects a fact,” said Bishop Kopacz. “A lot of people care. That is the heart of the United States of America.”
Several Catholic communities of the diocese have been facing the consequences of the immigration raids over the past months. In emergency response, the diocese has been working with parishes to provide assistance.
St. Anne Parish, which Bishop Kopacz visited as part of his trip, is a focal point for crisis management in the area with many parish families faced with hardships struggling to pay rent and food bills after heads of households lost jobs due to the raids. Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity Father Odel Medina, St. Anne pastor, is heading up long-term recovery efforts in Carthage as part of the diocese’s humanitarian aid efforts in coordination with Catholic Charities and other community organizations joining in the outreach.
Help is also being extended outside of the St. Anne parish family and other affected parishes and into the community-at-large to help families touched by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids. Father Mike O’Brien, pastor of Sacred Heart in Canton, and Father Roberto Mena, Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity and pastor of St. Michael Parish in Forest, are also part of the diocese’s humanitarian aid initiatives.
During the Sept. 29 Mass at St. Anne, Father Odel highlighted the humanitarian task as a new way to encounter Christ and his mission. “We live in a rich country,” he said. “Each one of us has wealth, …we are called to share and practice the word of God…, each one of us can change our own heart to care for each other.”
Bishop Kopacz recognized Father Odel for his role and service to the Carthage community. He also promised his continued support and help to the congregation. “Everybody knows that Catholics care for people and Catholics take care of the poor and underserved communities,” said Bishop Kopacz totally committed to taking care of and helping his sheep as shepherd of the Diocese of Jackson.
At the end of Mass, Bishop Kopacz greeted and talked with people attending the celebration. Community members also had the opportunity to express their concerns and questions to Luis Arango-Petrocchi, a lawyer and program manager of Immigration Legal Services of Catholic Charities Dallas of the Diocese of Dallas, Texas.
Catholic Charities Dallas is in collaboration with Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Jackson responding to the Mississippi communities most affected by the raids. At this time, both charities are working in Canton, Forest and Carthage providing social services.
Arango-Petrocchi explained that the charity’s Immigration Legal Services program is mainly focused on explaining and educating individuals about immigration rights. The charity is also helping families understand about possible legal outcomes depending on their individual case.
Arango-Petrocchi said that the crisis is ongoing explaining that involved legal processes and red tape takes time. “Some families will have to wait many years for the solution of their cases,” he said about the workers, part of parish families here in the diocese and once part of the local economy trying to work and make a better life for their loved ones. They will continue to be impacted for the long term.