Sunday, January 04, 2009

"Without Cost You Have Received..."

In a nod to the Magi who followed the star to find Justice and Hope, each year the Stateside church designates the days following Epiphany as National Migration Week... and this year -- with immigration reform a common cause for the incoming administration and the hierarchy -- the effort's getting a notable backup from the Tiber's banks.

Over New Year's the Fides news service of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples published a 12-page dossier on immigration in the United States. As Fides customarily devotes itself to coverage of the missions or war-torn areas, the focus on things North American is a something of a change -- and with some rather blunt judgments on the state of the question, to boot.

Praising the US bishops for having "strenuously fought for migrants and against systems of repression, actively involved in promoting immigration reforms which encourage legality and respect for human rights," the article slams as "ineffectiveness and violence" the 700-mile fence between the US-Mexico border currently under construction. And while, according to the agency, "no US or Mexican government has ever done enough to legalise or regulate migratory flows, pursuing ambiguous and blind policies in the face of real needs," the Propaganda's news arm judges the fruits of the North's emphasis on border-strengthening as having "only increased beyond all measure the quantity of public money invested in border protection, increased the number of persons killed while attempting to cross the border line, enriched human traffickers (smugglers), encouraged in total ambiguity employers who apply norms similar to those of dependence in a regime of slavery, strangle[d] illegal workers with a starvation wage and massacring working-hours, under the blackmail of non-existence."

Along the way, the dossier singles out the Bush administration with praise for placing immigration reform "high on its agenda"... even if "the work started by Congress has not yet produced the desired results."

Alongside studies and 2004's JP-authorized instruction Egra migrantes caritas Christi -- "The Love of Christ Toward Migrants" -- the text quotes B16 on last year's US trip when, in his in-flight press conference, the pontiff was asked about immigration in the States and replied as follows:
Of course, I will be speaking about this point. I have had various ad limina visits from Bishops of Central America and also from South America, and I have seen the breadth of this problem, especially the serious problem of the break-up of families. And this is really dangerous for the social, moral and human fabric of these Countries. However, it is necessary to distinguish between measures to be taken straight away and long-term solutions. The fundamental solution is that there should no longer be any need to emigrate because there are sufficient jobs in the homeland, a self-sufficient social fabric, so that there is no longer any need to emigrate. Therefore, we must all work to achieve this goal and for a social development that makes it possible to offer citizens work and a future in their homeland. And I would also like to speak to the President on this point, because it is above all the United States that must help these countries to develop. It is in everyone's interests, not only these countries but of the world and also of the United States. Then, short-term measures: it is very important to help families in particular. In the light of the conversations I have had with Bishops about the main problems, it appears that families should be protected rather than destroyed. What can be done should be done. Of course, it is also necessary to do everything possible to prevent precariousness and every kind of violence, and to help so that they may really have a dignified life wherever they may be. I also want to say that there are many problems, much suffering, but also such great hospitality! I know that the American Bishops' Conference in particular works closely with the Latin American Bishops' Conferences with a view to necessary aid. Besides all the painful things, let us not forget the great and true humanity, the many positive actions that also exist.
While on the ground, though, some of Benedict's most heartfelt statements on the issue came not in English, but in the Spanish he employed to close his public homilies at Washington's Nationals Park and New York's Yankee Stadium... the former translated below:
"Never let yourselves be won over by pessimism, inaction or problems of whatever kind. Better still, faithful to the promises made by your baptism, go deeper each day in your knowledge of Christ and let his heart be won over by his love and forgiveness.

"The church in the United States, having welcomed to its bosom many immigrant children, has grown thanks to the vitality of the witness of faith of the faithful of the Spanish language. For this, the Lord calls you to to keep contributing to the future of the church in this country and the spread of the Gospel. Only if you are united to Christ and with each other will your evangelical witness be credible and grow even more in boundless fruits of peace and reconciliation in the midst of a world so marked by divisions and conflicts.

"The church expects much of you. May the generosity of your gifts never be lacking. 'Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give' (Mt 10:8)."
Just before the April visit, Benedict appointed a longtime champion of immigrants to head Arkansas' diocese of Little Rock, whose recent Hispanic influx has nearly doubled it in size.

Within months, Bishop Tony Taylor rolled out his first pastoral letter, "I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me," dedicated to the church's teaching on the issue.

Given the week's focus, it might just be worth a look.

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Speaking of policy, while the Vatican year's first and last days are devoted to glad tidings and great liturgies, Thursday morning will see the Pope's annual "State of the World" speech highlighting the current issues and global conflicts of special concern to the Holy See. (For a sample, here's the 2008 text.)

The diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican in attendance, the address is delivered during the ambassadors' traditional exchange of New Year's greetings with the pontiff.

PHOTO: AP/Guillermo Arias