Women religious and others line up with signs along 72nd Street in Omaha, near Hickory Street, witnessing for better treatment of migrants seeking asylum in the United States. The demonstrations began last summer and continue weekly. COURTESY PHOTO


Sisters invite people to stand up for asylum-seekers

Every Thursday morning women religious and lay people stand in prayerful witness near busy Omaha streets.

They stand in warm or cold, dry or wet weather.

They stand with their signs and banners, receiving honks and waves of support as well as indications of disapproval.

Undaunted, the demonstrators continue their witness.

“We stand in solidarity with the children and families seeking asylum in the United States and being treated inhumanely,” said Sister Valeria Lewandoski of the Servants of Mary, known to many as Sister Val.

She is often among the 30 or so demonstrators who gather each Thursday from 8 to 9 a.m. at 72nd and Hickory streets in the Aksarben area.

But on the second Thursday of the month, from 8:15 to 9 a.m., she typically demonstrates at another site, near 74th Street and Military Road, near the Servants of Mary motherhouse. There her Servite sisters can more easily join in the witness.

The Servants of Mary, along with the Sisters of Mercy and Notre Dame Sisters in Omaha, are calling on more people to join them as they demonstrate each Thursday morning.

The sisters have called for better conditions at U.S. detention centers, where many migrants were held until recently.

Current U.S. policy has most asylum-seekers awaiting their fate across the border in Mexico instead of the United States. There they often live in tents, Sister Val said.

The sisters chose a street demonstration as their form of witness for a simple reason.

“It’s visible,” Sister Val said. “We really want it to be visible.”

The religious sisters and other demonstrators also are available to speak at parishes or other organizations. Many have been to the U.S.-Mexico border to help the immigrants.

As part of their efforts, they’ve formed a group called Mothers and Others: Advocates for Detained Migrant Children, which seeks ways to further raise awareness for their cause.

The three congregations of women religious joined their efforts over the summer, when a small committee of members of each order met to discuss how to grapple with immigration and other issues.

“We looked at what each of us is already doing to raise awareness and thought, why not collaborate on this?” said Sister of Mercy Susan Sanders, leader of the order’s West Midwest province.

Sister Margaret Hickey, provincial president of the Notre Dame Sisters, said the combined group continues to look “at what we as women religious have to offer during this time when the nation is facing many intertwined issues: immigration, displaced persons, racism and climate crisis.”

The leaders of the three local religious congregations, which include Sister Jackie Ryan of the Servants of Mary, have discussed their collaborative work with Archbishop George J. Lucas, and the archbishop supports their efforts, Sister Margaret said.

The number of immigration demonstrators has grown, said Sister Susan, of the Sisters of Mercy. “We’ve had college students, other women religious, Mercy Associates, other men and women from the area and even a person who was homeless join us. One day students from the area stopped by with coffee. Our hope is that others continue to join us …”

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WHAT: Demonstrations for the humane treatment of migrants.
WHEN AND WHERE: 8-9 a.m. every Thursday at 72nd and Hickory streets; or 8:15-9 a.m. every second Thursday of the month at 74th Street and Military Road.
DETAILS: Signs will be provided. For more information or to get involved, contact Sister of Mercy Kathleen Erickson at kerickson@mercywmw.org, Notre Dame Sister Mary Kay Meagher at mmeagher@notredamesisters.org or Sister Val Lewandoski of the Servants of Mary at lewandoski@osms.org.

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