SHU leaders speak against immigration ban
FAIRFIELD — Standing before a shimmering mosaic of an oversized Jesus Christ, Sacred Heart University President John J. Petillo Tuesday reaffirmed that President Donald Trump’s recent executive order on immigration is against the university’s beliefs, among them its Catholic spirit.
“Today’s theme is to the core of our mission — welcoming the immigrant and the refugee,” Petillo said. He later declared, “We will welcome immigrant students of all races, nationalities, creeds and we will walk with them on their journey.”
Halting refugee admissions and denying entry to citizens of seven predominately Muslim countries, the order has sparked global protests and dissent within the government. Some of the country’s most prominent Catholic leaders and numerous university presidents have condemned the move in the days following its announcement.
Petillo joined the chorus Monday, issuing a message to Sacred Heart’s community, calling the order a move that “goes against everything that Sacred Heart University stand for.” He said some of the university’s international students are directly impacted, he offered services and advised students from the seven nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — not to leave the United States for the time being.
His statement also announced Tuesday afternoon’s service, “Welcome the Immigrant and the Refugee: In Solidarity with our Muslim Students.” As snow fell, blanketing the campus, students and community members filled the Chapel of the Holy Spirit for the event, crowding in to hear remarks from university leadership condemning Trump’s policy, mingled with Catholic and Islamic readings and song.
The university president also spoke of his message to the community the day before, explaining he was concerned the community’s silence might be “deafening” in response. But, he said, student responses were all “affirming of our brothers and sisters” except for one, and many faculty, staff, alumni and parents have expressed solidarity. He did receive some negative emails and Tweets following his statement against Trump’s immigration action.
One parent, Petillo detailed, demanded he retract his statement and threatened that because of it, she and her husband would not make a significant contribution to Sacred Heart.
“Friends, students, colleagues,” Petillo said. “Let me be very clear. As I said, this is not a partisan issue… The mission of this university, its commitment to social justice and my conscience are not for sale.”
As the service went on, passages from Leviticus and the Gospel of Matthew and sura from the Quran filled the chapel. The room was led in a song calling for peace and worship.
Father Tony Ciorra, interim vice president for mission and Catholic identity, cited Catholic leaders that have recently spoken out against Trump’s order, including the archbishops of Newark and Chicago.
“Our Catholic tradition is one of the big tent,” Ciorra said. “It’s one in which we welcome every human being without exception. It’s one in which we cherish every human being without exception. Everyone is welcome — everyone. Once you begin to say that one is not, all bets are off.”
Members of the university community filled the chapel pews to show support for those impacted by the immigration order as well as for the university’s stance.
Abdullah Aljunaydil, a graduate student in the communications school, was amidst the crowd and said he feels Sacred Heart supports its international students, himself among them.
Another attendee, an undergraduate student went to the event to show solidarity with Muslim friends.
“I believe in supporting others, not stereotyping a whole group of people,” senior Tom Spierto said. “That’s not what our country was founded on.”
“This is a human rights issue,” Gerwien said. “As Dr. Petillo said, we’re all immigrants.”