Since the end of June, on Wednesday evenings at 6, people have gathered on the church steps of St. Vincent de Paul’s parish in St. Louis to pray for the people at our border.
We begin with a short reflection offered by someone in the parish or the broader community and spend most of the time in silence and contemplation. It’s not really quiet because the traffic on busy Interstate 55 rumbles, roars, and speeds by a few short yards from our church, celebrating 175 years of prayer and service this year.
The brief opening reflection reminds us why we pray for a situation that is an embarrassment to our country.
We can do so much better; we are more than the present moment at the border and in other places in the United States. On some evenings, as many as 30 people gather with us. At other times, we may be 10 or 12 sitting on the steps.
It’s not about the numbers. It’s about the people praying in solidarity with those at the border. It might not even be about the prayer, but it is about presence and relationships. Most of us don’t know individuals on the border, but we call them to join us on the steps. Many of the people who open the session speak of refugees and immigrants they know. Their stories deepen our awareness about situations many U.S. citizens can’t even imagine.
The people in our group differ every Wednesday, and we’re forming relationships and bonds with each other simply because we show up. I often sit next to a couple with four adopted children from four different countries; they remind me to pray for their kids who came here as infants. Street people often wander across the parking lot; we’re accustomed to their presence around our church. I think about the different and difficult borders and barriers they face on a daily basis.
We end with a prayer: “God, no one is stranger to you, and no one is ever far from your loving care. In your kindness, watch over migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.”
We leave after chatting with one another; the highway continues to whiz by; the people at the border may have become a little more real to us.