Rev. Gary Graf, a Catholic priest of the Chicago area, returned from Arizona on April 27 after having illegally crossed the international border into Arizona. A U.S. citizen, Rev. Graf surrendered himself to U.S. border authorities and asked forgiveness for his actions with which he sought to focus public attention on the current immigration debate in Congress. “It’s extremely dangerous. You risk your life, extremely costly and there’s got to be a better way,” said Rev. Graf.
Rev. Graf said he would like to open up public dialogue on immigration the following seven words: “Sorry, Thank you, I need your help.” He added, “I’m sorry for entering the country through the window and by not knocking on the door. As pastor I want to say Thank you for generally having accepted those who have entered this country the way I have just done and allowing them the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. I need your help. I invite pastors, rabbis and imams to initiate authentic dialogue in their faith communities throughout our country that move us from seeing people as illegal to people with dignity who share our same hopes and dreams.”
The outspoken priest returned to St. Gall parish in southwestern Chicago on April 26 after having flown from Arizona on a U.S. Airways flight. He has shown solidarity with immigrants in the past, having donated part of his liver in 2002 to an ailing immigrant parishioner who needed a transplant.
Rev. Graf’s return comes just days before May Day protests planned for Chicago by immigration reform advocates. He said, however, that humility and gratitude constitute the way to achieve change, rather than May Day protests. Such protests, said the priest, only anger people and do not serve to enact needed reforms.
St. Gall parish provides liturgies in English and Spanish to parishioners, as well as various social services. Rev. Graf is the pastor, while he is assisted by Rev. Armando Morales.