Cafeteria Prayers – Mass at an immigrant detention facility

America Magazine – Maurice Timothy Reidy

Mass at an immigrant detention facility

Last winter I traveled to Florence, Ariz., to a federal detention facility one hour north of Tucson, where we celebrated a liturgy with 50 men who rarely have a chance to attend Mass and who are separated from their families and friends. We sang hymns together, prayed together and exchanged the sign of peace. I tried to follow along in Spanish.

We were unable to bring cameras or cell phones into the facility, so I will try to give a picture of an event that was very moving for everyone involved.

The Mass was celebrated by Kevin White, S.J., of Jesuit Refugee Service. J.R.S. has a contract with the government to provide chaplains to federal detention centers, and as a new board member I traveled with them to visit some of their ministries near the border. Sister Lynn Allvin, a Dominican, is the chaplain at the Florence facility and helped to organize the liturgy. She celebrates a weekly Communion service for the detainees and assists with counseling.

There are currently 15 immigration detention centers in the United States. Some, like the facility in Florence, are run directly by the government, under the aegis of U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement. Others are operated by private contractors. The government is also opening separate facilities for women and children to cope with the influx of families and unaccompanied minors from Central America in 2014. In a recent report, the U.S. bishops called for an end to the detention system in favor of community supervision and support programs for undocumented immigrants.

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