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Church offers help after raid

Meghan MurphyVail, CO Colorado
Rev. Bernie Schmitz, of Our Lady of Peace church, wipes away tears as he prays with people in front of the Swift & Co. meatpacking plant in Greeley. Colo., Dec. 12, 2006, as Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials raided the plant as part of a six-state identity-theft sting. Several weeks after the raid at Swift, many in the immigrant community are still searching _ searching for their loved ones, searching for help, searching for answers. (AP Photo/Greeley Tribune, Hillary Wheat)
AP | GREELEY TRIBUNE

GREELEY (AP) – The Rev. Bernie Schmitz wasn’t surprised when the Hispanic community turned to the church after the Swift plant raids last month. But his heart broke, he says, when 300 people came to his door for help days later. And it has broken each day since, when another new family walked through his door, he says.Several weeks after the raid at Swift, many in the immigrant community are still searching – searching for their loved ones, searching for help, searching for answers.”There’s a sorrow on the part of the community … a sorrow for families affected, a sorrow for the whole question of immigration. It’s a sorrow and grief over a situation that’s very, very sad,” Schmitz said.On Dec. 12, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials raided the Swift & Co. meatpacking plant as part of a six-state identity-theft sting. In Greeley, 261 employees were taken on the feast day of the Mexican icon, Our Lady of Guadalupe, the timing of which Schmitz said is an auspice that a new perspective can come from this crisis.In the Hispanic community, many people turn to the church in times of sorrow. Greeley’s immigrants come from countries where there’s little trust in government institutions, so they turn to God, Schmitz said.And the church community has responded.

Our Lady of Peace has received $80,000 in cash and gift card donations from its own parishioners, other churches and from the faithful throughout the country.Many hours also are being donated to help unite and feed families. Our Lady has volunteers pitching in, and Schmitz and the Rev. Mario Ramirez are working day in and out.The church is giving of its own and leading families – a total of 130 so far – to more organizations toiling to help: Catholic Charities, Rocky Mountain SER, Weld Food Bank and social services, Latinos Unidos, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, and Swift & Co.

All of these organizations are coordinating efforts to make sure the material and resources are used in the best way to help the people, Schmitz said. Catholic Charities donated money to allow Our Lady to hire a case worker, who interviews families, checks their connection with the raids and determines their needs. Then the families were connected with organizations that provide food, clothing, diapers and even Christmas gifts.With a new family coming each day, the volunteers were giving their all, and then the snow hit. Schmitz said even those who work for emergency service agencies still took time to help those affected by the raid.Aside from the exhausting hours, the sad stories and the snow, there have been many signs of hope. On Christmas Eve, a Highlands Ranch man drove treacherous roads to deliver bags of clothes. On Christmas Day, a pickup, brimming with gifts for children, clothing and food arrived at the church’s door. A north Denver woman, whose leg was bound in a cast, also brought gifts and food. “It’s been very heartwarming,” Schmitz said.

Seeing people unite, even those who question the immigrant presence in Greeley, helps reinforce what Schmitz believes about the raids: that God will be found in this, he said. He said it’s a sign that the raid occurred on the feast day for Our Lady of Guadalupe. In the 16th Century, the Mexican church was struggling, and when the Virgin Mary was said to appear to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin on a hill near Mexico City, faith was renewed.”I think this crisis will become a door that will enable a lot of good things to happen, enable folks to talk about things, enable families to look at where they are going, and what do we want to do as a community with a very difficult challenge,” Schmitz said.Although so much has already been given, Schmitz doesn’t expect his role to end anytime soon. He said he believes there are more people who need help, who because of their culture have turned to family first, who because of politics are afraid to come forward, who because of weather have been physically unable to reach the church. “This is going to take a long time,” he said.Even when immediate needs are met, there’s always the question of what to do next, Schmitz said: For the families, how and where will they be reunited? For the community, how will we heal? And for society, how will we deal with immigration now that we’ve seen its human face?


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