Accompanying Immigrants in the Archdiocese of Washington

Thousands of immigrants—mostly from Latin America—and their families gathered at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in late 2016 to participate in the annual Walk with Mary celebration. In his homily, the Most Reverend Mario E. Dorsonville, Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, echoed the palpable feeling of uncertainty that weighted heavily in the hearts of those in attendance following a vitriolic election season that left many immigrants fearful about their futures. With this in the background, we gathered to place ourselves under the protective mantle of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

A year later, on December 9, 2017, thousands of immigrants—this time including a significant number of non-Hispanics—at once braved the freezing weather and Walked with Mary. In a celebration that included the recitation of the rosary using seven languages, a special Chinese song dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the recitation of the Universal Prayers in multiple languages, Bishop Dorsonville once again shed light on the plight of immigrants today. Together, close to three thousand immigrants left the Basilica feeling the closeness of God and knowing that their Church stood with them.

To say that 2017 was a difficult year for immigrants would be an understatement. The travel ban, the rescinding of the DACA program, the changing deportation priorities, ending the TPS programs, and the troubling rhetoric that dominated immigration negotiations, all increased the anxiety among immigrants in the United States. Many of our immigrant brothers and sisters in our pews felt some consolation learning that bishops across the country lifted their voices to defend and protect them. But what made the protection of Mary’s mantle truly visible was the pastoral work undertaken at the local level.

In the Archdiocese of Washington, our first response to initial indications of distress in the immigrant community was combating fear with knowledge. Catholic Charities and its partners provided legal clinics in various parishes to teach people about their rights and to explore paths to normalizing their legal status. We also jumped into the V Encuentro process, which sent thousands of Catholics to reach out to our brothers and sisters on the peripheries. It was through these early interactions that we saw distress and anxiety overwhelming immigrant communities. Then, in September, young people became the target of the anti-immigrant sentiment. Yet, instead of taking a step back, young people stepped up and began to organize and galvanize support for their cause.

To express our closeness with young people, the Archdiocese of Washington hosted a retreat for young dreamers. Titled “Your Dream is God’s Dream,” the retreat provided young people with an opportunity to share their stories and to pray and support each other. It also demonstrated the Church’s desire to accompany them. Through tears and smiles, our young people realized that they are not alone. They felt the consolation that Mary offered Juan Diego: “Am I not here, who is your mother? Are you not under my protection?” But above all, they committed themselves to accompany each other and seek out those who have yet to experience the consolation of Christ.

Walking with the immigrant community is an experience of kinship. While we might not be able to solve all their problems, we can certainly love them unconditionally, the same way that God loves each one of us. By walking with them in the midst of uncertain times, we express our closeness to God who has a special predilection for those on the margins, and it is by walking with them that our brothers and sister can experience the closeness of God.

Javier Bustamante serves as Executive Director of the Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach in the Archdiocese of Washington.

 Going Deeper

Visit the USCCB Justice for Immigrants website to connect with the Faces of Migration and take action to urge Congress to work for an immediate solution for Dreamers.

Migrants, Refugees, and an Invitation to Metanoia

Jesus Christ wants to change your life. Before you change your life, you have to change your mind.

A key concept for the life of Christian discipleship is metanoia.  Derived from the Greek word meta, for “beyond” and nous, for “thinking” or “mind,” metanoia means thinking beyond. Thus, the term metanoia was coined by early Christians as a way to describe how encounters with Christ necessitate thinking beyond what was previously thought. This term also highlights how the Holy Spirit urges a life of conversion.

If we are to follow and worship the crucified God-Man we must be open to heart and mind paradigm-shifts. The call to metanoia is made by our Lord in his Beatitudes.  For example: poverty is a blessing, meekness is strength, and persecution for righteousness is glory.

Bottom Line:  You can’t be a disciple of Jesus unless you are prepared and open to changing how you think about things. Most often, this thinking will be opposed to the thinking of the world.

Recently, the Office for Social Justice in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas was blessed to work with a great team of people to help Archbishop Naumann organize and celebrate the World Day of Migrants and Refugees with a special Mass and multicultural festival.  Catholics from the various immigrant and ethnic communities of the archdiocese came together in a liturgy that reflected the multi-national, universal identity of the Roman Catholic Church by utilizing different languages and musical styles. The Mass was followed by sharing a potluck meal and fellowship as families who had immigrated from Asia, Europe, Central and South America shared their food and culture with one another. People who weren’t accustomed to worshipping with each other came together to pray for all the migrants of the world.

It was a time for metanoia, to rethink how our Catholicity calls us to recognize that ultimately we are called to share a common home in Heaven. Pope Francis reminded us, in his message for that day,  “Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age (Matthew 25:35-43).”  Each person is precious; persons are more important than things, and our institutions must be measured by how well they support the life and dignity of human beings, particularly when they are vulnerable, as in the case of child migrants.

As our government wrestles with its immigration and refugee policies, especially on the issue of DACA, let us as Christians be open to a metanoia on immigration that sees people not as enemies at the gate that we ardently resist, but persons of inherent worth that we desire to prudently welcome.

Bill Scholl is the Social Justice Consultant for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and Diocesan Director for their local Justice for Immigrants Campaign.

Going Deeper
Visit USCCB’s for materials and resources to encourage encounter, learning and action for and with immigrants and refugees.



Pastoral Letter “Strangers No Longer” Still Strong 15 Years Later

Each week’s news seems to bring new attention to the migration crisis: the Rohingya fleeing Myanmar, child migrants escaping violence in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America, refugees from war torn areas in the Middle East, and others.

The migration of peoples from one country to another is hardly new to the modern age, but the sheer numbers of people being displaced in recent decades—due to violence, economic need, environmental causes, and other reasons—has challenged governments to take stock of the various crises giving rise to migration and to find ways to respond in responsible ways.

Following the massive displacement of people that coincided with World War II, Catholics sought to better understand ways in which their own tradition could inform their understanding of the phenomenon, and how best to respond to it. Perhaps one of the most prominent efforts in the early post-World War II period was the publication of Pope Pius XII’s Apostolic Constitution, Exsul Familia, which explicitly held up the Holy Family as an archetype for refugees.

Subsequent popes continued to explore the question of migration, and in doing so addressed the responsibility of receiving countries toward migrant communities, the responsibilities of migrants living in a new homeland, and the importance of providing protections to marginalized populations. The Migration Day messages that are issued every year by the pope are a very useful resource to better understand the teaching of the Church on migration.

In 2003, the bishops of the United States and Mexico made an important contribution to this effort with the publication of their joint pastoral letter, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope. This letter, whose principles are still current, aimed to clarify some of the unique challenges confronting their respective countries with regard to migration, understand the application of Catholic teaching, and provide guidance to policy makers as they try to respond. An important part of this letter consists in the bishops’ effort to provide guiding principles that should inform policymaking. These include:

  1. Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland.
    All persons have the right to find in their own countries the economic, political, and social opportunities to live in dignity and achieve a full life through the use of their God-given gifts. In this context, work that provides a just, living wage is a basic human need.

    2. Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families.
    The Church recognizes that all the goods of the earth belong to all people. When people cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right.

    3. Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders.
    The Church recognizes the right of sovereign nations to control their territories but rejects such control when it is exerted merely for acquiring additional wealth. More powerful economic nations, which can protect and feed their residents, have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows.

    4. Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection.
    Those who flee wars and persecution should be protected by the global community. This requires, at a minimum, that migrants have a right to claim refugee status without incarceration and to have their claims fully considered by a competent authority.

    5. The human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected.
    Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity that should be respected. Often, they are subject to punitive laws and harsh treatment from enforcement officers from both receiving and transit countries. Government policies that respect the basic human rights of the undocumented are necessary.

On the pastoral letter’s tenth anniversary, I helped to edit a volume that reflected on many of the themes of the letter, and highlighted some of the important developments that occurred since its publication. Just five years later, as we celebrate the pastoral letter’s fifteenth anniversary, we find ourselves in a new set of circumstances as efforts to restrict migration in the United States are in full force.

Given these changed conditions, it is as important now as ever for Catholics to understand Church teaching on migration and in doing so push for legislation that respects the human dignity of migrants. The Justice for Immigrants Campaign, launched partly in response to the publication of the pastoral letter, is an important mechanism that Catholics can take advantage of in this regard. I urge you to visit the website and sign up to the listserv, so that you can receive regular updates on migration related phenomenon, and better understand what the Church is doing in this field.

In addition, the recently initiated migration campaign, Share the Journey, is an effort on the international level to educate Catholics on migration issues and Church teaching. In the U.S., the campaign is being implemented by USCCB, CRS, and CCUSA. On the website you can find a variety of useful resources to educate and inspire others to take action in defense of migrants and vulnerable populations.

Todd Scribner, PhD, is the Educational Outreach Coordinator for the Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs, at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Going Deeper
Visit and find dialogue resources to address difficult issues on immigration. Also, find inspiration by learning how a diocesan Immigration Team Fosters Participation and Respect for Human Dignity.

“Rise, Take the Child and His Mother” and Flee to Egypt: A Scriptural Refrain that Echoes with Today’s Migrants

A family was in flight from a brutal regime. Not knowing where to turn for safety in their own land, they packed what they could carry and fled to a nearby welcoming country, where they waited, protected until a change in national leadership finally made it safe to return home.

The story is familiar to Christians. The Gospel of Matthew (2:13-23) tells the story of the Holy Family escaping the brutal rule of Herod the Great. They fled to Egypt, where they were safe from what Matthew describes as Herod’s order to kill all boys younger than age 2, in order to eliminate the Messiah whose birth had been announced to him by the Magi.

But it also is the story of many of the contemporary 65 million people worldwide who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, whether to safer parts of their own countries or to adjacent nations.

The Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, observed on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, just after Christmas, is the second Scriptural story during the season to focus on their status as migrants – the first being Mary and Joseph’s trek to Judea to register for the census just before Jesus was born.

The experiences of Mary and Joseph resonate with today’s immigrants and refugees. Sometimes people leave their homelands with every intention of returning quickly: “as soon as I earn enough to buy my family a house in my country;” “as soon as the soldiers and rebels stop fighting in my city;” or “as soon as the police can get rid of the gang tormenting my children.”

Others flee situations so difficult they assume it’s a one-way journey. Wars, famine, environmental destruction, crime, political and religious oppression or inescapable poverty can all compel someone to permanently leave home.

People in all of these situations are served by the 330 nonprofit immigration organizations that make up the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, known as CLINIC. The members of the network range from one- or two-person operations like the Crosier Community in Phoenix, to large, archdiocesan Catholic Charities agencies with numerous staff attorneys and accredited representatives who assist thousands of immigrants a year.

The last year brought a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety for many immigrants. Among the major unsettling actions and proposals were: the cancelation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA; the termination of Temporary Protected Status for several countries and impending decisions on cancelation for several more; changed priorities for deportation and other enforcement; increased use of detention for people who had no criminal records; changed criteria for visa approvals; reductions in the number of refugees admitted; and proposals to eliminate a foundational principle of American policy, family-based immigration.

Through it all, the members of the network established by the U.S. bishops in 1988 to serve low-income immigrants have stepped to the fore.

In the Archdioceses of Miami and Boston, that has meant significant efforts to help Haitians whose TPS status will expire in 2019 to figure out their options. Is there a relative living in the U.S. whose legal status would allow them to sponsor their TPS-holding family members?

In dozens of cities, that has meant legal services agencies gathered staff and volunteers on evenings and weekends to help screen thousands of immigrants from around the world, to evaluate whether they might have overlooked a path to legal residency in the United States. In a project to screen 3,000 immigrants in southern states last spring, 15.4 percent of the people whose applications were reviewed were found to have a likely path to legal status. Several people turned out to already be U.S. citizens—derived from having a citizen parent, typically—but were unaware of it.

And throughout the country, reaching out to vulnerable immigrants has been as essential as sharing know-your-rights materials, teaching families what documents they should prepare in case someone is unexpectedly taken into custody for deportation and as simple as providing a card to carry with an immigration attorney’s phone number. Meanwhile, in response to inquiries from parishes and other faith communities about how to help immigrants, we’ve developed resources to guide discernment for shaping a community response.

The year ahead will likely be even more difficult for millions of immigrant families, as policies changed in 2017 are fully implemented. As we begin our 30th year as CLINIC, we will remain vigilant and attentive.

Patricia Zapor is Communications Director at Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC)



Going Deeper
Visit to find inspiring stories of hope and to learn about ways to take action in support of refugees and immigrants, such as resources for parishes, and how to send a letter to your legislator. Take action by being part of the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG) in Washington, DC, February 3-6.

Prayer for Immigrants/Oración por los inmigrantes

Join us in praying for families of mixed status, victims of racism, migrant laborers, young people brought to the U.S. as children, and all who are in the shadows.

Hear Us, O God

“Know that the LORD is God,
he made us, we belong to him,
we are his people, the flock he shepherds.”
– Psalm 100:3

Hear us, O God.  Hear our families of mixed status. Hear those who wait in fear of separation, burdened with anxiety.

Hear us, O God. Hear all who are called “foreigner.”  Hear us when we experience cold stares or mistrust because of the color of our skin or the language we speak.

Hear us, O God. Hear our brothers and sisters who sweat in the fields. Hear those who work long, backbreaking hours growing food, serving us at restaurants, and cleaning our homes.

Hear us, O God. Hear those young people who were brought to this country as children.  Hear their dreams for a future of hope.

Hear us, O God. Hear vulnerable women and children. Hear those who have fled domestic violence, rape, or gangs to seek safety in this country.

Hear us, O God. Hear those who work in the shadows and are exposed to exploitation and harassment. Hear those for whom just pay for a just day’s work is always uncertain.

Hear us, O God. Hear us as we raise our voices. Hear your people as we seek laws and policies to protect the vulnerable and welcome the stranger.

Standing together—a single yet diverse body of Christ, we pray:  Shepherd of the flock, hear us. Be with us, restore us, and strengthen us, for we belong to you.

May your kingdom come and your will be done.  Amen.

Escúchanos, oh Dios

“Reconozcamos que el Señor es Dios,
que él nos hizo y a él pertenecemos,
que formamos su pueblo y su rebaño”.
– Salmo 99:3

Escúchanos, oh Dios. Escucha a nuestras familias con estatus migratorios mixtos. Escucha a los que esperan con temor la separación, cargados de ansiedad.

Escúchanos, oh Dios. Escucha a todos los que son llamados “extranjeros”. Escúchanos cuando experimentamos miradas frías o desconfianza debido al color de nuestra piel o al lenguaje que hablamos.

Escúchanos, oh Dios. Escucha a nuestros hermanos y hermanas que sudan en los campos. Escucha a los que trabajan largas y extenuantes horas cultivando alimentos, sirviéndonos en restaurantes y limpiando nuestros hogares.

Escúchanos, oh Dios. Escucha a esos jóvenes que fueron traídos a este país siendo niños. Escucha sus sueños de un futuro de esperanza.

Escúchanos, oh Dios. Escucha a las mujeres y niños vulnerables. Escucha a los que han huido de la violencia doméstica, la violación o las pandillas para buscar seguridad en este país.

Escúchanos, oh Dios. Escucha a los que trabajan en las sombras y están expuestos a la explotación y el acoso. Escucha a aquellos para los cuales una remuneración justa por un día de trabajo justo es siempre incierta.

Escúchanos, oh Dios. Escúchanos cuando alzamos nuestras voces. Escucha a tu pueblo en nuestra búsqueda de leyes y políticas que protejan al vulnerable y acojan al extraño.

Juntos de pie, un solo pero diverso cuerpo de Cristo, oremos: Pastor del rebaño, escúchanos. Acompáñanos, restablécenos y fortalécenos, porque te pertenecemos.

Venga a nosotros tu reino; hágase tu voluntad. Amén.

Turning a “contemplative gaze” toward our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters

Building on his September launch of the “Share the Journey” campaign in support of migrants and refugees, Pope Francis’ Message for the 51st World Day of Peace (Jan. 1) invites Catholics to embrace those who endure perilous journeys and hardships in order to find peace. He urges people of faith to turn with a “contemplative gaze” towards migrants and refugees, opening our hearts to the “gaze of faith which sees God dwelling in their houses, in their streets and squares.”

In his Message, Pope Francis echoes St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, pointing to war, conflict, genocide, ethnic cleansing, poverty, lack of opportunity, and environmental degradation as reasons that families and individuals become refugees and migrants.

Four “mileposts for action” are necessary in order to allow migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and trafficking victims the opportunity to find peace. These include:

  1. Welcoming, which calls for “expanding legal pathways for entry” and better balancing national security and fundamental human rights concerns;
  2. Protecting, or recognizing and defending “the inviolable dignity of those who flee”;
  3. Promoting, which entails “supporting the integral human development of migrants and refugees”; and
  4. Integrating by allowing migrants and refugees to “participate fully in the life of society that welcomes them.” Doing so enriches both those arriving and those welcoming.

How can we, as Catholics, respond to Pope Francis’ powerful words in this year’s message?  What are we called to?

Here are three ideas.

  1. Pray with a “contemplative gaze.” Pray for the grace to approach issues around migrants and refugees from a starting point of faith and prayer.
    Encounter the stories of migrants and refugees on this handout and at and then pray for those families and individuals.
    You may also try one of these prayer practices to enrich your experience of prayer for our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters.
  1. Learn. Visit to read the stories of families and individuals who are migrants and refugees and to learn how you can respond. Visit to learn how faith communities are answering the call to welcome migrants and refugees.
  2. Act. Join tens of thousands of Catholics to advocate for policies that support migrants and refugees in the U.S. and those experiencing poverty or conflict around the world. For current action alerts, visit and

Together and with God’s help, we can seek peace for all people, including those who are migrants and refugees.

This text is excerpted from the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development handout for the World Day of Peace 2018, which is also available in Spanish.

A Place at the Table Turns Fifteen—Where are We Now?

November 2017 is the fifteenth anniversary of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ pastoral reflection, A Place at the Table: A Catholic Recommitment to Overcome Poverty and to Respect the Dignity of All God’s Children (also in Spanish).

The 2002 reflection uses the powerful symbol of the table—where we come together for food, where neighborhood, national, and global leaders meet to make decisions, and where we gather as Catholics to worship—to ask: Who is invited? Who is excluded?

Poverty and its causes, including unequal access to resources and to the “table” where decisions are made, are a “moral scandal.” Pope Francis has frequently echoed this conviction, arguing that the scandal of poverty can only be addressed if those impacted by poverty are invited to the table.

In A Place at the Table, the bishops call all Catholics to act, and point to “the essential roles and responsibilities” of four institutions, or legs, which must work together to overcome poverty: (1) families and individuals, (2) community and religious institutions, (3) the private sector, and (4) government.

The bishops note that the debate around how best to address poverty is often too narrow, focusing only on one or two of the “legs” to the exclusion of the others. They call all four legs essential: “a table may fall without each leg.” The Catholic perspective recognizes the complementary roles of each leg and urges a comprehensive approach. Supporting healthy families and assisting individuals to make good choices are important, but the positive role of government is also essential. Faith-based institutions are an integral community support, yet business institutions must also contribute to the common good through decent work, living wages, and good benefits.

This perspective, the bishops write, is based on the Biblical vision of God’s special concern for those who are vulnerable, Catholic social teaching’s emphasis on human dignity and economic justice, and the Church’s rich lived experience feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, and working for justice and peace.

A Place at the Table challenges all of us—parents, children, workers, owners, managers, consumers, investors, community members, and citizens—to work together to live out this vision and call. Through public prayer and private worship, we must anchor our weekday witness in love and solidarity. And our family, parish, and school formation must reflect Christ’s concern for those in need and equip us to confront structures of sin and work for greater justice in the world.

What is most striking about A Place at the Table is its continuing relevance today, fifteen years after its publication. We still have a long way to go in our faith communities and in society. Yet, there are countless examples of how faith communities are working, in inspiring and effective ways, to create “a place at the table.”

  • Catholic Charities in Metuchen, NJ models a unique response to poverty that includes organizing community members to influence local policy around wage theft, immigrants’ rights, housing, and other issues that affect families.
  • In Fresno, CA, a parish community of immigrants recently succeeded in a thirteen-year ecumenical effort to pass a new anti-slum ordinance which will improve living conditions for countless individuals and families.
  • A Catholic school in St. Paul, MN, is helping children invite their Muslim brothers and sisters to the “table” by facilitating a pen-pal relationships between Catholic and Muslim school children in their community.
  • Dioceses around the country are implementing the process of the V National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry (, which is an invitation for all Catholics to reflect on the gifts, opportunities, and challenges around U.S. Hispanic ministry. The broad Church—not only Hispanic Catholics—are invited to get involved.

There are many ways we can build on these and other efforts. We can continue to ask questions about who is invited, and who is excluded, in policies, programs, and decision-making. We can work with others, through our parishes, schools, neighborhood associations, faith-based and secular networks, to put our faith in action. We can get involved in the V National Encuentro process. We can ensure that the many faces of our diverse body of Christ are included in our efforts and in leadership opportunities.

Together, let’s work to create “a place at the table” for everyone.

Jill Rauh is assistant director of education and outreach of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.