Wednesday, March 22, 2017

"We Are With You" – "In Unsettled Times," US Bench Makes Fresh Call to Immigrants, Refugees

Amid a roiled political environment – and capping off a remarkable across-the-board protest of President Trump's signature policy commitment – the top leadership of the US bishops has used its first meeting of the year in Washington to issue a significant call that "It is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity."

As reports around the country indicate a broad spike in arrests and detainments by federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, and with the new administration's ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries stalled in the courts, the statement from the USCCB Administrative Committee' signals a further doubling-down of advocacy for the undocumented and at-risk refugees on the part of the nation's largest religious body, which has spent recent months ramping up numerous local initiatives ranging from very public prayer services in solidarity to programs informing parishioners of their rights and how to respond should they find themselves or their families targeted.

Comprised of all the bench's committee chairs and other prelates representing the US church's 15 regions, the 30-man Administrative meets four times a year, but only twice outside the June and November plenary sessions of the whole 270-member conference. In that light, a statement from the Admin is understood as representing the mind of the entire body of bishops.

Adding to its significance, this week's discussions at the DC Mothership marked the top board's first gathering led by the new conference executive, Houston's Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles (top left), whose historic election as the bench's president and vice-president days after the White House vote was widely seen as a sign of the church's resolve on the immigration front in the face of the campaign season's scorching rhetoric on the issue.

With that context in mind, here's the entire Admin statement – billed as a "pastoral reflection" bearing the title "Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times":
The word of God is truly alive today. "When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt" (Lev. 19:33-34).

To live as a people of God is to live in the hope of the resurrection. To live in Christ is to draw upon the limitless love of Jesus to fortify us against the temptation of fear. Pray that our engagement in the debate over immigration and refugee issues may bring peace and comfort to those most affected by current and proposed national policy changes.

Let us not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life. They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future. As shepherds of a pilgrim Church, we will not tire in saying to families who have the courage to set out from their despair onto the road of hope: "We are with you." They may also be a family seeking security from an increased threat of extremist violence. It is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity.

Intense debate is essential to healthy democracy, but the rhetoric of fear does not serve us well. When we look at one another do we see with the heart of Jesus? Within our diverse backgrounds are found common dreams for our children. Hope in the next generation is how the nation will realize its founding motto, "out of many, one." In doing so, we will also realize God's hope for all His children: that we would see each other as valued sisters and brothers regardless of race, religion or national origin.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh (Jn. 1:14), strengthens us to bring our words to life. How might we, as Catholics and in our own small way, bring our words of solidarity for migrants and refugees to life?

1. Pray for an end to the root causes of violent hatred that force mothers and fathers to flee the only home they may have known in search of economic and physical security for their children.

2. Meet with members of your parish who are newcomers, listen to their story and share your own. Hundreds of Catholic parishes across the country have programs for immigrants and refugees both to comfort them and to help them know their rights. It is also important to reach out in loving dialogue to those who may disagree with us. The more we come to understand each other's concerns the better we can serve one another. Together, we are one body in Christ.

3. Call, write or visit your elected representative and ask them to fix our broken immigration system in a way that safeguards both our security and our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration.

As Pope Francis said, "To migrate is the expression of that inherent desire for the happiness proper to every human being, a happiness that is to be sought and pursued. For us Christians, all human life is an itinerant journey towards our heavenly homeland."