Reflections on the Religious Leaders Retreat on Immigration (June 16th and 17th 2009)
Manuel Pérez Browne
If I had to explain what this retreat was about, I would start by saying it was an interfaith meeting of grassroots religious leaders trying to find new and effective ways to be socially and even politically involved, in the case of this particular retreat, on the immigration issue.
What a grassroots religious leader is it’s something we had the privilege to experience and perfectly understand just before attending the retreat when meeting the Episcopal Reverend Earl K., who guided us around his Harlem streets and stories, sharing with us his daily struggles to serve the community. A community, as we could see through all this people greeting him in the street, which obviously recognizes his role and commitment.
There are two points which I found inspiring related with the way these grassroots leaders were trying to define their social and political engagement during the retreat.
The first one is that they were trying to be involved without forgetting the specific and unique contribution they can make: the religious and spiritual one. They were trying to find an engagement including prayers, silences, and spiritual values, the kind of thing other actors cannot do. That’s why I liked very much the presence of contemplatives of different traditions, sometimes accused to ignore practical concerns. As an immigrant has to find a way to be American or Catalan without losing its original identity, a religious community has to find a way to be secularly involved without its religiosity.
The second inspiring point was for all that they invited and had a dialogue with non religious actors: civil organizations, public agencies, etc. Interfaith will never work if it’s about building a world only for faiths.
I would also like to share three other reflections from a Catalan perspective. First is about the immigration problem. It’s definitively an urgency that we share –even if, definitively, the New York and America dimensions make it look more urgent. This urgency, I think, has to be addressed legally but not just legally; not just in terms of laws, rights and reforms but also in terms of mentalities, values, habits, etc. and here’s –we could say in an educational sphere- where I think religious communities have more to say.
Second: Interfaith is clearly more rooted in New York than in the context where I work. It seems to me, religious communities find natural, here, to cooperate, which is not yet the case in Catalunya. But not only Interfaith is more rooted, religious communities itself look to be much more trained, to have much more skills than the Catalan communities. As an example, the documentary produced by the New York African community. The sense of humor and irony contained in this material prove, for me, that the community, even with a lot of struggles, is already quite established. In Catalonia, this particular community but not just this one has still a long way to do in this sense.
Finally, I left the retire thinking, in general, non religious civil society and even public powers have understood much better than in Catalunya the essential role religious actors can play and already play in public sphere, improving society and democracy.