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PROGRESSIVE PULSE: Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace in North Carolina

April 21st, 2011

By Sarah Ovaska

The annual Pilgrimage for Peace and Justice has been taking place in North Carolina all week.

The walks, used to highlight issues of justice happening around the world, occur each year during Holy Week and are sponsored by the N.C. Council of Churches, Witness for Peace Southeast and several other groups.

The pilgrimage will make its way to  Raleigh tomorrow,  Good Friday, for a “Stations of the Cross” gather at noon at the State Capitol building.  More information is available here.

We spoke earlier this week with Gail Phares, 71, a coordinator of the walk for the last 25 years.

How did the Pilgrimage get started?

Having the walk during Holy Week helps bring light to justice issues. It began in 1986, There was the Contra war in Nicaragua and the U.S, was funding people that where the Contras and supporting dictators..  and They were basically terrorists attacking the civilian population, but most people in the United States weren’t aware of it.

Now, it’s attended by people in the faith and justice communities. In the last 10 years, we’ve focused on the Hispanics that are living among us and the issues they face. We walk and talk about the justice issues and educate people about them.  Most recently, we’ve been talking about our need to reform our immigration laws.

What’s the theme of this year’s walk?

This year is more important than ever. People are blaming our economic woes on the immigrant community. There’s a lot of hateful talk. The strength of this country has always been diversity and we need to find a way for people to come here legally.

The last few years we’ve been coming through the major cities With the federal government now pairing with sheriff’s offices and people are being deported from jails with the287 (g) program and Secure Communities, we believe it’s the wrong way to go. Not to punish immigrant that are coming to feed their families and do work that needs to be done. What would we do if we didn’t have them here to help us with our work, in our communities?

But they’re being scapegoated now, in the nation and in the state.  Immigration is a federal issue and it really has nothing to do with state government. But because the federal government failed to pass immigration reform, they’re finding immigrants to blame with our economic problems, which immigrants have nothing to do with.

It’s been 25 years since you had the first walk. Is there still a need to do it?

We believe this year we need to be walking more than ever, as far as we’re concerned. It helps show people that if you really believe in God, we’re all brothers and sisters. And if you’re Christian, as I am, Jesus talks about the importance of being in solidarity and working to help the poor.

Every year it just gets bigger. It doesn’t matter what you believe or your faith, all types of different people walk. Part of the tradition is to speak the truth when no one else will. We’re trying to walk in that tradition.

To read the article in the Progressive Pulse, click here