Lenore Isleib and her husband, Leigh, of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Hightstown, left, attend the “Lights for Liberty” vigil July 12 at Hinds Plaza, Princeton. Seated in front of the couple are Dr. Anne Barstow and Dr. Tom Driver, who are both active in Dutch Neck Presbyterian Church, West Windsor, as well as with social justice issues.  Rich Hundley photos
Lenore Isleib and her husband, Leigh, of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Hightstown, left, attend the “Lights for Liberty” vigil July 12 at Hinds Plaza, Princeton. Seated in front of the couple are Dr. Anne Barstow and Dr. Tom Driver, who are both active in Dutch Neck Presbyterian Church, West Windsor, as well as with social justice issues.  Rich Hundley photos

Inspired by ongoing questions and concerns about treatment of refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border, more than a thousand rallies were held locally, nationwide and across the world during July. 

Photo Gallery: Lights For Liberty in Princeton

In Princeton, demonstrators participated from various social justice and church groups, including four members of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Hightstown, in a “Lights for Liberty” vigil, one of about 800 that took place worldwide July 12.

“It was a very peaceful vigil,” said Lenore Isleib, who chairs the parish’s social concerns committee with her husband, Leigh. “Sometimes you go to demonstrations and there’s a lot of shouting; you can tell there’s anger in the group because there’s so much frustration. But this seemed more like an energized but hopeful rally. … It was very respectful and kind.”

The rally, Isleib said, included speakers from Mercer County nonprofit service organizations, local politicians, and Princeton University professors and students.

“The whole world is watching us,” Isleib said of the United States’ handling of the border crisis. “We’re supposed to be the symbol in the world of welcome and freedom and justice, and … we’ve become closed and narrow – a source of disappointment.”

Fear and Confinement

Isleib, who teaches English as a Second Language Classes, said that her students are worried for their status and status of family members.

“They’re disappointed and frightened,” she noted. “Right now they’re keeping certain family members home ... but they are still so in love with this country, so happy to be here, so hopeful in spite of their fears.”

The local rally, the theme of which was echoed in cities around the country and world, was designed to raise awareness of the conditions in detention centers at the border, and the refugees who are suffering as a result.

The pro-life response required of Catholics, Isleib emphasized, should be one of compassion.

“It’s a basic part of the Catholic principals of social justice – you welcome the stranger, and you share what you have,” she said. “I believe that immigrants contribute so much to our society.”

National Outcry

Outside the Cathedral of the Assumption in downtown Louisville, Ky., expectant mother Mara Whitford held a sign that said, “I’d walk 1,000s of miles for my baby, too.”

The parishioner of St. William Church, Whitford, was one of about 250 people who attended a candlelight vigil at the cathedral. Appalled at news reports of squalid conditions in some immigrant detention centers, Whitford said it’s distressing to see accounts of children taken from their mother’s arms.

“The idea of anyone doing that to my baby …,” she said as she choked back sobs unable to finish her sentence. “This demonstration shows how many are against the detention camps.”

The vigil featured several speakers, including local faith leaders, Catholic Charities staff and a Holocaust survivor. It concluded with a moment of silent prayer by candlelight.

The sentiment that all those who come to the U.S. border should be treated “with the respect and dignity they deserve as children of God” was echoed in a July 18 demonstration, too.

“This is a legal, universal right: to go to a country seeking asylum – and you should not end up in a cage for seeking freedom from violence,” Isleib said.

Jessica Able and Carol Zimmermann of Catholic News Service contributed to this story.