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23 Dedham Avenue
Needham, MA 02492

Sanctuary Service Welcome

by | Mar 25, 2018

Parishioner John Gallo delivered this inspiring Welcome to start the service on February 18, which focused on Immigration:

Me llamo John Gallo, y mi familia, incluida mi esposa Traci Abbott, hija Julia, en el noveno grado, y hijo Sebastian, en el séptimo grado. Nos unimos a First Parish cuarenta anos pasados, en el ano dos mil cuatro.

        My name is John Gallo, and my family includes my wife, Traci Abbott, daughter Julia, in 9th grade, and son Sebastian, in 7th grade. We have been attending First Parish for 14 years, since 2004.

        I have served as First Parish’s treasurer and I am currently teaching my third year of Building Bridges, formerly known as Neighboring Faiths, but today I was drafted to do the welcome by the Sanctuary Task Force here at First Parish, or, more specifically, my wife Traci, who is a member.  The Sanctuary Task Force was created last summer to explore ways to resist unjust immigration laws which have a devastating effect on many within our community, including families. 

        I would also like to introduce our special guests today, Gabriella Chavez and Nestor Pimienta, who will speak on their work in the sanctuary movement. Gabriella and Nestor are Harvard Divinity School graduates who founded and direct the SLIC Refuge Community and are also members of the Cambridge Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition. Their passion and commitment stems from their personal histories and experiences, which we will hear more about today. Now I’d like to share with you a little of my personal history and experience which influences my views on immigrants and refugees.

        As some of you may know, although my family name, “Gallo,” sounds Italian, it is actually pronounced “Gallo,” because it is also Spanish. My grandparents and their two children fled Cuba in the early 1960s after the Castro regime nationalized all private property.  As the threat of forced Soviet indoctrination grew, my grandparents sent my father, 15, his brother, 13, and their two cousins, 11 and 9, unaccompanied to the United States as part of the Operation Pedro Pan.  These 4 plus 14,000 other Cuban youths arrived in Miami in the early 1960s to find themselves subject to social hostility and separated from family, even family members already in the United States.  Living in a refugee camp under Interstate 95, my father and uncle didn’t see their mother for over a year and their father for over two years.  And despite this hardship, my family was lucky.  Because of Cold War politics, they were considered good immigrants, which propelled my family’s story towards the American Dream.

        For me, their immigrant story made such an indelible mark on my childhood, that it was with great pride and enthusiasm that I joined the United States Coast Guard in 1988.  Several years earlier, the Coast Guard rescued a great uncle who finally fled Cuba during the 1980 Mariel boatlift.

        My first tour was on the USCGC Spencer, which still operates out of Boston and had many patrols of the Caribbean in the early 1990s.  At the time, political and economic turmoil in Haiti had reached a tipping point, and I recall picking up hundreds of Haitian migrants in the Straits of Florida.  Their boats were barely seaworthy, but their dreams to start a life anew in the United States was just as strong as my family’s fleeing Cuba 30 years earlier.  Sadly, because of misguided and often inconsistent immigration law, we had to repatriate all Haitian migrants back to Port Au Prince.  Not one we rescued was permitted to start their American Dream.

        There is no such thing as good immigrants or bad immigrants.  Our nation’s history is replete with remarkable stories of how immigrants built this great nation.  I stand with immigration rights activists like Gabi and Nestor and our congregation’s commitment to sanctuary and believe that all those that seek refuge — from poverty, violence, government instability or corruption, and environmental displacement – should find it on our shores.

If you missed the amazing sermon on February 18 by Gabi Chavez and Nestor Pimienta, two sanctuary activists and Harvard Divinity School graduates, please click here: