Ash Wednesday 2014 Pilgrimage for Human Rights
By Pam Orlowicz and Chuck Orlowicz
Some reflections from Pam Orlowicz
There are times when I do something but I’m really not sure if it makes any difference. That thought crossed my mind this past Ash Wednesday. Here I was with maybe 50 other people standing in a dark street in Elizabeth, New Jersey. It was very cold. Before us was the Elizabeth Detention Center, a jail housing immigrants threatened with deportation. This center is surrounded by fencing and there are no windows. Every once in a while someone who works there would go in or come out, but no one inside could possibly know we were even there. We had some banners and some musicians and we sang and prayed and sang some more. But did anyone hear us? Did it matter? Well, one person did hear us and that made all the difference. She was there because her husband was in the detention center and she had come that night to visit him. She was very moved by this small group of people. Before she went inside, we were invited to pray over her. The experience moved us all. In a sense she brought us inside with her and carried with her our love and desire for our country to change the policy we have in place to deal with undocumented people who live and work within our borders. So at least on this night, on this dark and cold street in Elizabeth, we did make a difference.
Some reflections from Chuck Orlowicz
I spent pretty much all day on Ash Wednesday as part of this pilgrimage, organized by Pax Christi NJ, and co-sponsored by about a dozen other organizations. We began in Liberty State Park in front of the footbridge to Ellis Island. Forty or fifty intrepid souls in the cold breeze prayed, sang, chanted, and shared stories. At this initial gathering spot, the Archdiocese of Newark was officially represented by Archbishop Bernard, the recently appointed coadjutor. He offered prayers and words of support as we launched what was to be a day of walking (about 13 miles in all), praying, singing, chanting, sharing stories, and speaking truth to power.
Our first stop was at the Hudson County Administration Building in Jersey. We spoke out against Hudson County’s part in immigrant detention. The Hudson County Correctional Center may keep more than 600 immigrant detainees incarcerated at any given time. From here we walked to Saint Peter’s University where we heard a number of people speak about working for justice for immigrants. Over the entire day I was delighted to see that a majority of our walkers were young people. We had a contingent of about a dozen boys from Don Bosco High School. We also had quite a few college students represented.
From Saint Peter’s University, we obtained transportation to Saint James Church in the Ironbound section of Newark, where we participated in an Ash Wednesday service. Afterwards, we walked to One Gateway Center, where Senators Menendez and Booker have offices. I noticed that as we walked, people would ask one or the other of us what all the commotion was about. In this way, we occasionally picked up additional walkers for a part of the way. And some people had planned to walk only a portion of the way, so we would regularly pick up groups, and leave them later at another point. In Newark we had a number of women with small children join us for a part of the way.
From One Gateway Center, we walked to the Rodino Federal Building and then to the Essex County Hall of Records. From here we obtained transportation to a location in Elizabeth, which allowed us to walk to the Union County Courthouse.
Again we obtained transportation, which brought us to our final destination for the day, the Elizabeth Detention Center. During this entire time, the enthusiasm of our walkers never waned. We had multiple speakers at each stop along the way, a three piece musical group for the entire pilgrimage, enthusiastic chanting, singing, sharing stories, and getting to know each other a little better over the course of the day. We had a prayer vigil at our final stop, which was very moving in spite of my weariness and the cold that just seemed to be getting right into my bones.
All in all, it was an absolutely beautiful day spent with a group of absolutely beautiful people.