The Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut

Caged Holy Family Display at St. James Church is Witness Inspired by Faith

Posted on by ECCT Media for St. James New London Media Release

Media Release, July 11, 2019
St. James Episcopal Church, 76 Federal Street, New London CT                           


New London - Statues of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus have been placed inside two cages outside St. James Episcopal Church as a means of witnessing against the inhumane conditions for migrants on the nation's Southern border.

Conceived by the Rev. Ranjit K. Mathews, rector of St. James, the installation was endorsed by the church's Vestry- its governing body -- as well as by the both the diocesan and suffragan Bishops of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, the Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas and the Rt. Rev. Laura J. Ahrens. It was erected on July 12 and will remain through Sailfest weekend, which draws thousands of visitors to the city.

Mathews said the idea for the installation came from Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis, which placed statues of the Holy Family inside a chain-link fence on its property last year as a witness against the detention of immigrant families. In the St. James display, Mary and Joseph are kept in a separate enclosure from the baby Jesus as a reminder of the many children separated from their families.

"The Holy Family were refugees fleeing persecution in Bethlehem for Egypt to escape danger," Mathews said, referring to the account in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 2: 1-15. "If they were crossing over from Central American countries to the United States today, they would be put in these internment camps like the migrant children and families. Reasonable people can disagree about the facets and nuances of immigration law, but the current zero-tolerance policies being carried out on our Southern border are immoral and evil, including treating children like animals inside of cages with little access to sanit ary ·pro ducts and deplorable living conditions."

Mathews said the display should be viewed as an art exhibit intended to focus attention on the issue and as a physical manifestation of the church's baptismal vows. In these vows, parishioners pledge to proclaim the word and life of Christ; to seek to serve Christ in all persons, loving their neighbor as themselves; and to strive for peace and justice and respect the dignity of every person.

Mathews said that, although Southeastern Connecticut is physically distant from the migrant camps in Texas, "we cannot sit idly by when our elected officials condone this policy at the border of our country. As people of faith we hold onto Scripture, tradition and reason as sources of authority to engage with the world. This artwork is meant to be provocative to  the hearts and minds of the faithful here in southeastern Connecticut."

According to press and eyewitness accounts, thousands of migrant children and adults are being held inside a series of cages created from metal fencing. In facilities in Clint and McAllen, Texas, children from a few months to 17 years old who have been separated from their parents have been seen sleeping on the floor with foil blankets without soap or toothbrushes and inadequate food. Children as young as 8 years old are caring for infants and toddlers.

Mathews said that trying to understand the incredible pain being inflicted on these children and their parents may be difficult, but a necessary step in working to bring about an end to their suffering. In the fall, a group of parishioners plan to take a trip to the Southern border with other faith communities  to gain a first-hand understanding of the situation. They will offer food, clothing and pastoral presence to those seeking asylum and fleeing violence and persecution.

Quote from parishioner and lay leader Lori Sarkett: "We as a nation must step up and come to terms with the injustices that are upon us at our Southern borders. "May those in positions of power find the courage to see God in the eyes of those who are detained, and the wisdom to come to the realization that the thousands who are imprisoned desire nothing more than a better future for themselves as well as their families."