I’ve been broken down recently by the news and reports of how children and families are being treated at the Southern border of the country, specifically in my state. I want to go somewhere or do something or serve or help somehow, but feel overwhelmed by my own ignorance and inability to do anything to get in the way of a broken system. And when I feel overwhelmed by the world around me, I tend to write liturgies to help me gather my own thoughts in prayer, and to maybe help others do the same.
This is a common prayer liturgy for the children and families who are being torn apart at the border as they seek asylum from violence and persecution, or simply the hope of a life where they can provide for and protect themselves. I share it here in the hopes that it may help you pray communally, or even on your own. If you are a native speaker, forgive my unpracticed Spanish and please do let me know if anything should be changed. And if you have connections or know of tangible work being done to address these problems, please also share how to be involved.
Una Oración para Los Niños y Sus Familias
(A Prayer for the Children and Their Families)
Speaking Roles: Prayer and Response (Multiple), Background (Multiple),
Bearing Witness (Multiple), Matthew 2, Mark 10, Jeremiah 22, James 5, Amos 5
Prayer and Response
Dios de los pobres y los desesperados, necessitamos su Espíritu Santo ahora.
God of the poor and desperate, we need your Holy Spirit now.
Tú estas la esperanza de ellos sin esperanza.
You are the hope of those without hope.
Y hay muchos sin esparanza en nuestro estado.
And there are many without hope in our state.
“Informally since last summer, and officially since April 6th, the Department of Homeland Security has been separating parents from their children at the border, taking the parents into criminal custody and handing the children over to the Department of Health and Human Services to be placed in shelters and foster families, sometimes thousands of miles away from their parents. The process is compounded in its brutality by its perhaps intentional disorder, as a Boston Globe piece detailed on Sunday: parents in custody often have no idea where their children are, how to get them back, or if or when they will see them again….
Endless harrowing accounts continue to emerge from the results of the separation policy. On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that a thirty-nine-year-old asylum seeker from Honduras named Marco Antonio Muñoz hanged himself in a padded cell of a Texas jail after being separated from his wife and his three-year-old son.” (Via The New Yorker)[i]
Prayer and Response
Señor, ten misericordia.
Lord, have mercy.
Cristo, ten misericordia.
Christ, have mercy.
“Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the government would criminally prosecute everyone who crosses the border illegally, a directive that is already leading to the breakup of hundreds of migrant families and channeling children into shelters and foster homes across the country.
The goal, according to administration officials, is to discourage Central American families from making the perilous journey to the United States’ southwest border, where they have been arriving in swelling numbers this year to claim asylum.
In just the first two weeks under President Trump’s new policy, 638 parents who arrived with 658 children had been prosecuted, administration officials told Congress.” (Via The New York Times) [ii]
Prayer and Response
For those seeking refuge from violence and persecution,
Whose hope hangs by a thread, and who plead for protection;
For the parents separated from their children,
Whose anguish cries out to you from the earth;
For the children who have been taken from their parents,
Who have had all they know in this world taken from them,
Lord we pray:
Christ, have mercy,
God, have mercy.
[Senator Jeff Merkley visited an immigration-processing center in Brownsville, TX at the beginning of June, and has been attempting to raise awareness of what he found there:]
“The makeup of that processing center is shocking when you see it, but let me go to the heart of the issue. The issue is this new policy of, when families are seeking asylum, their children are torn away from them and sent who knows where. The parents are beside themselves not knowing what happened to their kids, and they never know if they’ll see them again. The kids are going through the second version of trauma. Families seeking asylum have by definition experienced trauma abroad, and perhaps trauma en route. So finally they get to the border, and they think ‘finally, we’re safe.’ But instead they’re put into this prison-like facility, and separated, and put through this new drama.”
Now after [the wise men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
Bearing Witness, cont’d
[Merkley continues:] “The argument is if we deter families from seeking asylum, then they won’t take on this arduous journey, so they won’t be exposed to smugglers. They’re inflicting trauma on children, to influence parents. Who does that? What civilized society does that? What faith tradition in the world would inflict trauma on children to influence their parents?
I’ll tell you what was very difficult to see. One room had smaller cyclone fences—they look like the way you construct a dog kennel. They’re larger, but that’s the thought that comes to mind when you see them. Then they have these space blankets [light foil blankets], which is a very strange sight, to see kids using a space blanket as a cushion—but they don’t provide any cushion—or as a cover for privacy. There’re no mattresses in that section.
After they go through interviews, they go into a big warehouse. I called them cages, and the White House said that’s unfair, they aren’t cages. Well, call it a cell, then. It’s a cyclone-fence-constructed area. There were all these boys in this big enclosure, maybe three to four dozen boys, and they lined up, from smallest to largest, to get ready to go eat. The tiniest kid at the front of the line, he was knee-high to a grasshopper; he was 4, maybe 5 years old. They go up to age 16 or 17.” (Via The Nation)[iii]
People were bringing little children to [Jesus] in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Thus says the Lord:
Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed.
And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place.
Bearing Witness 2
“Only one member of Congress has been able to talk to the mothers who have had their children taken from them: Washington state Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who got into a federal Bureau of Prisons facility Saturday near Seattle to meet with roughly 170 immigrant women held there. More than a third had lost their children during their migration, either when they were detained by US officials at the southern border or when they turned themselves in seeking asylum.
[Jayapal says]: ‘Thirty to 40 percent of these women came with children who had been forcibly taken away from them. None got a chance to say goodbye to their children—they were forcibly taken away. One said she was deceived, because they were in detention together. Then the CBP officers told her she was going out to get her photograph taken. When she came back, she was put in a different room, and she never got to see the child again. Some of them said they could hear their children screaming for them in the next room. The children ranged anywhere from one to teenagers… [T]his so-called zero-tolerance policy, I’ve never seen anything like it. And I’ve worked on these issues for years. I mean, I saw some of these things happening after 9/11 to Arab Americans, Muslim, people being secretly detained and deported. It takes me back to that time when there were mass roundups of people.
There was a time when waterboarding and torture was the accepted thing to do. Then it became unacceptable. This separation of children from their parents is really a form of torture. These women have no idea where their children are. There’s been a lot of research on what happens to young children who are separated from their parents. For some of these kids, it’s been a month—or more!’” (Via The Nation)[iv]
Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you.
Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten.
Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire.
You have laid up treasure for the last days.
Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure;
you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.
When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice.
Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.
The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery; they have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the alien without redress.
Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.
Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.
“For Christians are not distinguished from other people by country, or language or custom. Nowhere do they live in cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or live life in a peculiar way….They live in their respective countries, but only as resident aliens; they participate in all things as citizens, and they endure all things as foreigners. Every foreign country is their homeland, and every homeland is foreign.”
Bearing Witness 3
“The undocumented immigrant from Honduras sobbed as she told an attorney Tuesday how federal authorities took her daughter while she breastfed the child in a detention center, where she was awaiting prosecution for entering the country illegally.
When the woman resisted, she was handcuffed, Natalia Cornelio, the attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, recalled from her interview with the woman, who had been detained under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy to refer anyone caught crossing the border illegally for federal prosecution.
Since the policy was announced in May, some 500 children have been separated from their parents within the last month, according to Miguel A. Nogueras, an assistant federal public defender for the Southern District of Texas in McAllen, citing an unofficial count by an attorney in his office.
Some parents who are under arrest tell public defenders they don’t know what happened to their children, Nogueras said. Some parents also claim they have been told their children are being taken to be bathed or cleaned up, then the adults don’t see them again.” (Via CNN) [vi]
They hate the one who reproves in the gate,
and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.
Therefore because you trample on the poor
and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your transgressions,
and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and push aside the needy in the gate.
Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;
for it is an evil time.
Seek good and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
just as you have said.
Hate evil and love good,
and establish justice in the gate….
I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Prayer and Response
God of the poor and desperate, we need your Holy Spirit now.
We confess that we have sinned against you and against our fellow human beings:
In our silence and our apathy, we are guilty.
Forgive us the actions and inactions that have allowed this suffering.
We confess that we do not know how to pray,
That we do not know how to help.
Awaken us to what you would have us do,
Empower us to be light in darkness.
We confess that we cling to privilege and comfort,
That we are blinded by our wealth to the suffering of others.
God, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Holy Spirit, pour out your comfort and presence on those families who suffer at the border. They seek safety from violence, deliverance from persecution, a life for their children that is free from fear—and yet they are denied these things in the name of laws made by their fellow human beings.
Lord Jesus Christ, let us leave all to follow you.
Give us the vision to see where you would have us go,
Give us the courage to empty ourselves for the sake of others.
We place ourselves before you,
That you may send us to respond to great suffering and injustice.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit we pray,
A Song of Prayer for Comfort for Brothers and Sisters in Lonely Places:
Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you; the one who has God lacks nothing:
Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you; God alone is enough.
[v] From the Epistle to Diognetus; quoted in George Kalantzis, Caesar and the Lamb (Cascade, 2012), 86.