By Nova Safo, CNN
Follow on Twitter: @Nova_Safo
Chicago, Illinois (CNN) - A Chicago priest is making headlines for having done something that likely no other American has experienced: he crossed into Mexico – and then crossed back into the U.S. illegally. He says he did it to understand what many in his mostly Latino congregation have gone through. And he has a message for them: apologize if you’ve come here illegally.
Father Gary Graf of Chicago’s Saint Gall Catholic church on the city's south side serves a predominantly Latino and immigrant part of town. He’s a charismatic figure, in his 50’s and in good shape. He used to be a boxer and he’s got a deep, dark tan. The tan is the result of his walk through the desert at the U-S-Mexico border, where he crossed back into the U-S illegally.
[1:25] “I’ve lived in Mexico, know language, culture. Lived among them here in the states. But have never experienced getting here the way they got here – the vast majority of them,” he says.
The experience, he says, has resulted in a simple message to illegal immigrants:
[4:40] “Sorry. Thank you. I need your help.”
He wants immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally to consider those seven words. He wants them to approach the topic of immigration reform from a different angle, by asking for forgiveness for breaking laws, by offering gratitude to a country that’s taken them in, and by asking for help from American citizens:
[5:15] “I said very clearly after what I just did, to enter the country the way you entered the country, does not give you the right to demand anything. You have to gain that right and the only way to gain that, in my humble opinion, is by showing humility and gratitude and by dialogue, asking for help to remain here not by ranting and raving, and forcing the issue.”
Graf is now waiting to see if the immigrants who hear his message will embrace it.