Friday, November 07, 2008

On Welcoming the Stranger

Long known for his leadership on the issue, no one should be surprised that Bishop Tony Taylor's first pastoral letter in Little Rock is devoted to the church's teaching on immigration.

Rolled out at a Wednesday study day Taylor held with his priests, I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me... runs 32 pages... introed by the Facebook-friendly prelate's observation that "the major current issue about which American Catholics are most confused today has to do with immigration."

Pastor of Oklahoma's largest Spanish-speaking parish before his appointment to head the 120,000-member Arkansas church in April, the latter has exploded in size over the last two decades, a growth fuelled -- as is overwhelmingly the case across the booming Southern church -- both by the arrival of Anglo transplants from the north and a mass influx of Hispanic immigrants from south of the border and beyond. What's more, with 29 men in formation, Little Rock started this academic year with the largest number of seminarians it's known since 1966 -- a figure either rivaling or exceeding some of American Catholicism's most-established bastions.

A major issue of concern to the nation's hierarchy -- which recently called for a halt to the raids on undocumented workers that've been taking place across the country -- with Tuesday's elections now past, a renewed call for "comprehensive, humane" immigration reform is expected to await the new Congress and administration on their arrival in Washington.

SVILUPPO: At a press conference yesterday, Taylor said his intent with the pastoral was twofold -- to dispel "confusion" among the faithful on the church's teaching... and to do so especially among those charged with making the law:
"My hope is that the Arkansas legislature will do what Jesus would do," Taylor said, and "welcome the stranger." He said he'd be glad to meet with legislators, especially Rep. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, who is said to be working on legislation to stem the tide of Hispanic immigration into Arkansas -- and who is a Catholic....

"People have a God-given right to immigrate" when circumstances demand it, Taylor said, and he'll spread that word with the letter and his taped homily that played at Catholic churches on Sunday.

Taylor said he hoped to clear up "confusion" among Arkansas Catholics -- which has a substantial Hispanic population -- about the issue, particularly the fact that he calls them to, in effect, disregard the law of the land. Current U.S. immigration law is unjust, he said, "and we can't participate in an injustice." He added that he is not promoting illegal immigration, but "saying the law misses the mark."

Taylor said also he believes many don't understand how difficult it is to enter the country legally and are unaware of the consequences of deportation on families. Once informed, he said, those who previously were troubled by illegal immigration have a "conversion experience."

Taylor... said the story of the Bible is one of immigration, from Moses leading his people out of Egypt audience to Mary, Joseph and Jesus' journeys from Nazareth to Bethlehem to Egypt. "Many Joses and Marias and Jesuses" are coming north, he said, and we should make room for them.

The pastoral letter is an "authoritative teaching," Taylor said.
Prior to his elevation, Taylor led the archdiocese of Oklahoma City's charge against HB 1804 -- the state's controversial law that criminalized aid or services to illegals and would, as oneĀ emphatic pastoral there put it at the time, "create an atmosphere of repression and terror" among the community.

Passed last year, the bill remains on appeal before a Federal court.

PHOTO: AP/Guillermo Arias