FOREST, Mississippi — The priest at a Mississippi church says raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have decimated his congregation.

Father Roberto Mena tells The Clarion Ledger that his Forest congregation and that of a sister church in Morton were halved by the Aug. 7 raids on Mississippi food processing plants. Mena says he and a majority of his parishioners at St. Michael’s Catholic Church are Guatemalan. Services are offered in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

The 52-year-old clergyman says he’s now directing people to legal services and aid, in addition to providing spiritual guidance.

Mena says some have been afraid to attend Mass since the raids. However, nearly 100 people packed into his small church last week to pray for the return of the absent parishioners.

“The church is with them, and we are a community,” Mena told the newspaper. “We are going to hold them in this difficult situation that they are facing — they are not alone.”

Mena previously ministered in Compton, California, and Bainbridge, Georgia, before arriving in Mississippi more than a year ago.

“I have realized,” he told The Clarion Ledger, “why God sent me to this community — to accompany my fellow Guatemalans in this situation. Like Moses.”

Crux staff contributed to this report.

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