On February 1st, exactly one month to the day since his Installation, Most Reverend Gregory L. Parkes, the fifth Bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, celebrated a special Prayer Vigil for Migrants and Refugees at Nativity Catholic Church in Brandon, FL. Nearly one thousand men, women, and children attended the vigil. Bishop Parkes spoke about the need to pray for our brothers and sisters fleeing war and danger in their native countries. Many of these refugees had their resettlement to the United States delayed as a result of President Trump’s Executive Order regarding suspending refugee resettlement from seven nations.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) charges Catholic Charities with resettling refugees in coordination with the U.S. Government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The USCCB is one of seven organizations the ORR uses to resettle refugees. Over the past several years, 60-85,000 refugees have been resettled in the U.S. annually. Since 1975, the U.S. has resettled more than 3 million refugees, with nearly 77 percent being either Indochinese or citizens of the former Soviet Union. Since the Refugee Act of 1980 was passed, annual refugee admissions has ranged from a high of 207,116 in 1980, to a low of 27,100 in 2002. Locally, Catholic Charities resettled 207 people in 2016 with 140 of our brothers and sisters hailing from banned countries (Sudan, Syria and Iraq). Of note, none of the 140 were single males; all were families.
The Order of the Prayer Vigil
The vigil began with a processional, followed by brief opening remarks from Bishop Parkes in english and spanish. The entire group then recited one decade of the Rosary (alternating ‘Hail Mary’s’ in English and Spanish).
First Reading (Leviticus 19:33-34) – reinforced the need to be open to foreigners in our land:
“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.”
The Gospel reading (Matthew 2:13-15) – also clearly expressed this sentiment in describing Jesus’ flight to Egypt with his mother, Mary, and foster father, Joseph. Bishop Parkes gave the homily during which he said:
- “We are not here for political reasons, but for spiritual reasons.”
- “We’re here to publicly say before God that we’re concerned for our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
- “Prayers are powerful indeed and no prayer goes unanswered.”
- “I truly believe prayer has the power and ability to change hearts; to change minds.”
- “Jesus tells us, ‘when you welcome the stranger, you welcome me.’”
The remainder of the Vigil – The congregants chanted the Lord’s Prayer (aka the ‘Our Father’) after prayers of petition that included those for the refugees who have had their lives placed on hold (“For government leaders in our nation, that they may implement policies that allow safe migration, just migrant working conditions, and an end to the detention of asylum seekers.”). Bishop Parkes prayed the concluding prayer.
Acknowledgements – Bishop Parkes acknowledged those who were instrumental in setting up the Prayer Vigil and in obviously ministering to migrants and refugees: Father John Tapp, pastor of Nativity, Vivi Iglesias, manager of the Diocesan multicultural ministry, Sabrina Burton-Schultz who is the Diocesan Life Ministry Leader, Dr. Michael Tkacik, Secretary of Administration, and Mark Dufva, Executive Director of Catholic Charities. Bishop Parkes prayed the Final Blessing and processed out to the concluding hymn – Somos el Cuerpo de Cristo (We are the Body of Christ) – a joyful, uplifting, and memorable (many folks couldn’t stop humming the tune long after the vigil had ended!) songs.
The local media (ABC ActionNews 28, Fox 13 News, NBC 8, BayNews 9 among others) subsequently interviewed Bishop Parkes followed by the Diocese’ very own Spirit FM 90.5 (WBVM).
- Post-service media Q&A (some questions are inaudible); Spirit FM 90.5 solo interview last 2 minutes
- Bay News 9 Online Coverage
- Bishop Parkes – Tampa Bay Times Opinion Column
- Fox News 13 Coverage of Prayer Vigil
- Spirit FM Coverage incl pro- and anti-ban interviews
Bishop Parkes met with different individuals seeking blessings or just to see and speak with him before departing for his next event. These included the following people who beautifully represented the melting pot that our nation is:
- an elderly spanish-speaking Puerto Rican woman who asked him to bless her rosary
- a french-speaking Congolese family which had arrive only two months ago from the African nation who wished to meet him
- Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement team came to support the Bishop and the very people with whom they are charged with resettling
Additional Media / Video of the Prayer Vigil
Watch the Prayer Vigil: Part 1
Watch the Prayer Vigil: Part 2
Mark Dufva, Executive Director of Catholic Charities, Spirit FM interview on refugee program (and the facts):