Benedictines host interfaith prayer service to ‘Keep Todas Familias Together’

Sister Sandra Brunenn, OSB, prioress of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island (second from left), and guests are silent as the monastery bell tolls, calling them "in sadness to stand in solidarity with our suffering brothers and sisters" as an interfaith prayer service begins July 14. Sister Mary Core, OSB, (at left) serves as the master of ceremonies. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

ROCK ISLAND — With joined hearts and voices, the Benedictine Sisters of St. Mary Monastery and 60 women, men and children prayed last Saturday morning for the families that have been separated at the U.S. border and all those “who have fled their homes seeking freedom, employment, justice and peace.”

“As we pray today for our nation and those who suffer, let us give thanks for our many blessings and may our prayer together strengthen our resolve to work tirelessly for peace and for just immigration reform,” said Sister Mary Core, OSB, as “Keep Todas Familias Together” (“Keep All Families Together”) began in front of the bell tower at St. Mary Monastery.

Showing their support before the July 14 prayer service at St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island are (from left) Oblate Linda Clewell of Moline, Sister Roberta Bussan, OSB, and Julie Kelemen, a live-in volunteer at the monastery. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

The director of liturgy at the monastery, Sister Mary asked participants to listen in silence “to the tolling of a bell that calls us in sadness to stand in solidarity with our suffering brothers and sisters.”

The prayer service included the Shabbat Blessing of Children, led by Rabbi Linda Bertenthal of Temple Emanuel in Davenport, Iowa; prayers for peace in the Muslim tradition by Lisa Killinger, immediate past president of the Muslim Community of the Quad Cities in Bettendorf, Iowa; and a prayer by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., read by Pastor Jerome Green of the AITLM Anchored in the Lord Ministries in Rock Island. Those gathered also alternated verses of Psalm 142, which implores God’s help in times of trouble, and heard a Native American prayer seeking strength and wisdom.

They were joined by Olivia Best, a member of St. Anne in East Moline and 2018 graduate of Alleman High School in Rock Island, who read an excerpt from a New York Times article detailing the sobering experiences of one Honduran youth that led him to request asylum in the United States.


“I think it’s so important and has always been important for communities of faith to stand together, link arms and walk together on this journey,” said Killinger, who added that we must be careful not to leave others out.

While it may not be well understood, peace is a core value of the Muslim faith and the word “Islam” means “the state of being at peace,” she told The Catholic Post. “This is incredibly important to us and we really are honored to be here.”

Pastor Green said he accepted the Benedictine Sisters’ invitation to offer a prayer because “prayer is so much needed these days.”

“We need to be in one accord, in unity and stand together,” he said. “You have to set issues aside. If we hold on to issues it’s going to hold us down and if we’re held down we cannot do our Father’s business. So we’ve got to let go and let God have his way.”

Lending their voices and prayers to “Keep Todas Familias Together” on July 14 at St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island are (left) Lisa Killinger, immediate past president of the Muslim Community of the Quad Cities, and Rabbi Linda Bertenthal of Temple Emanuel in Davenport, Iowa. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“Judaism teaches that silence is assent,” Rabbi Bertenthal told The Post. “If we will be silent in the face of such a tragedy and such a horror of children and parents being deliberately separated and sent to different parts of the country with no thought as to how to get them back together, if we would be silent in the face of that it would signify that we are agreeing to it.”

Before leading the Shabbat Blessing of Children, she invited those present to raise their hands as a symbolic blessing for “the children deprived of their parents’ care on behalf of the parents, who long with all their hearts to touch and hold and protect their children.”


Deacon Michael Sigwalt of St. Malachy in Geneseo and Deacon Gary Schultz of St. Matthew in Farmington and St. Mary in Canton, said their decision to attend the prayer service came down to whose face we see when looking at the immigrants and their children and who we want to be as a nation.

“Don’t we really see Christ in all these people? ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me,’” Deacon Sigwalt said, quoting Matthew 25.

Deacon Schultz quoted Jesus in another passage from Matthew: “Let the children come to me.”

Pastor Jerome Green of AITLM Anchored in the Lord Ministries in Rock Island reads a prayer from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the July 14 interfaith service, “Keep Todas Familias Together,” at St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“Families are the structure behind the society,” he told The Post. “We’re not supporting that, so it’s important to have people witness to the importance of family and the importance of a policy that follows along with what we say we stand for. Otherwise the words on the Statue of Liberty don’t apply anymore.”

While changing immigration policy seems daunting, Deacon Sigwalt said, everyone can do something and prayer is a good place to start.

“We all have to come out and pray and be respectful of one another and recognize that we’re all in this creation together — that you are my sister and he is my brother,” he said.

“Maybe somebody somewhere this weekend will say, ‘What did you do Saturday?’ and I’ll say, ‘Well, I went to this prayer service’ and it gets them thinking, ‘Maybe I should do something like that.’”

Entire program may be viewed online

To give more people an opportunity to view “Keep Todas Familias Together” and participate even if they couldn’t be present for the July 14 service in Rock Island, the Sisters of St. Benedict used Facebook Live. Their first attempt at using this new technology reached 1,500 people, who viewed the prayer service 800 times.

To watch the service, go to their Facebook post here.

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