A Norris Square church staged a version of a Latin American posada Sunday, reenacting the biblical story of Mary and Joseph's search for lodging in Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus.
But tradition was tweaked a bit because Honduran immigrant Angela Navarro had been living for nearly a month in sanctuary in the West Kensington Ministry church.
"It's a self-contained posada," said the Rev. John Olenick, explaining that the ceremony did not follow the tradition of going door to door in the neighborhood.
Navarro, 28, who is defying a long-standing deportation order, faces possible arrest by immigration officers if she leaves the church.
So, instead of taking a procession through the neighborhood, parishioners carried statues and a diorama of the holy family from one side of the church to the other, singing about being given posada - the Spanish word for inn or a place to stay.
"What better place to meet tonight, supporting Angela," Olenick told the crowd of about 100.
Olenick, pastor of Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in North Philadelphia, said refugees around the world today were "having to search for a safe place."
"I can't go out," said Navarro, who lives with her husband and two children in a room at the church.
Navarro came from the eastern Honduran province of Orlancho and was caught by U.S. immigration agents after she entered Texas illegally in 2003. Honduras routinely posts the highest homicide rate in Latin America.
Pending an immigration court hearing, Navarro was allowed to stay temporarily with her parents, who were living legally in Philadelphia.
Then, in a 2004 proceeding, she agreed to voluntarily leave the United States rather than be formally deported.
But she reneged on the agreement and has been subject to immediate deportation at any time.
She said she had been living in fear since.
"First of all," she said in Spanish to the congregation, "I thank God - and then, I thank all of you.
Churches in Chicago, Denver, Phoenix, and several other cities have offered sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.
Supporters of the sanctuary churches say Navarro was the first immigrant this year on the East Coast to be offered this type of church protection.
President Obama recently issued an executive order changing immigration procedures.
That order would allow up to five million undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation.
It is unclear how the changes will affect Navarro.
Although Navarro has no criminal record, and her children - Arturo, 11, and Angela Mariana, 8 - were born in the United States, immigration officials are given discretion in determining which cases require deportation.
Nicole Kligerman, an organizer with the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, said Navarro's attorney was trying to have her deportation order reversed - a first step before she can leave the church.
She said Navarro's possible deportation was just one of many her organization hoped to stop.
"We're going to keep working," Kligerman vowed, "until no one is deported."