Standing with Our Immigrant Brothers and Sisters

Catholics know that every person is made in the image of God. Everyone is due our respect and our love. We’re called to care especially for those who most need our welcome, including newcomers to our country. Because the Church in America has always been an immigrant Church, Catholics feel this responsibility in a particular way.
The Catholic story in America is a story of immigrants, from the first Catholics who arrived here hundreds of years ago, to the waves of European immigrants whose nickels and dimes built so many churches and schools across this country, to those arriving today in search of a better life for themselves and their families. This is who we are.

We are also a family – a family whose life is enriched by the gift of our diversity. Every Sunday, in parishes across the country, people from different backgrounds come together to celebrate Mass. Many cities have Masses offered in twenty or more languages. Catholics of all backgrounds—Chinese, Polish, Guatemalan, Irish, Mexican, Ghanaian, Korean, Honduran, Lithuanian, Vietnamese —come together and are enriched by the Eucharist and by one another.

As a family, we take care of each other and our neighbors. Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, and social service ministries care for immigrants every day, from language classes to job training programs to offering a helping hand when someone’s in need. We’ve been helping integrate immigrants into American life since Catholics first arrived on our shores. This is what we do.

Given who we are and what we do, we have a special responsibility to reject the hostility that dominates the public conversation about immigration today. The language we use in the public square matters. It should reflect the best of our American traditions – traditions of welcome; of unity in diversity; of care for those in need.

Pope Francis reminds us that immigrants are no different than our own family members and friends; each “has a name, a face, and a story.” Let us remember that Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus were also immigrants in a foreign land when they fled from King Herod to Egypt. When we warmly welcome newcomers we open our hearts wider to Christ.

Most Reverend Eusebio Elizondo is Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle and Chairman of the Committee on Migration of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Immigration, Mercy, and the Vision of America

gomezThis is an excerpt of a lecture by Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez at Boston College Sept. 8, 2016 during an event sponsored by The Church in the 21st Century Center.

Immigration reform is one of the great issues of our day. It’s more than politics and economics. It is a struggle for justice, dignity and human rights. It is a challenge to the conscience of every individual. I believe immigration reform is a spiritual issue — it is a test of our faith, our humanity and our compassion.

I am not a politician, I am a pastor.  For me, immigration is about people — people I work with and live with; my neighbors and parishioners; my friends and family. It is also something personal for me. I came to this country as an immigrant from Mexico and I am a naturalized citizen. I have family and friends on both sides of the border.

The human face of immigration

It’s important to remember that behind every “statistic” is a soul — a soul who has dignity as a child of God, a soul who has rights and needs that are both spiritual and material.

The immigrants I know are people who have faith in God, who love their families, and who aren’t afraid of hard work and sacrifice. Most have come to this country for the same reasons that immigrants have always come to this country — to seek refuge from violence and poverty; to make a better life for themselves and their children.

When Pope Francis addressed the U.S. Congress last September he reminded us that he is the son of an immigrant.   Pope Francis said something beautiful that I think we should all reflect on:

“On this continent … thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal.”

 A nation of immigrants
It is common to talk about America as “a nation of immigrants.” With the exception of our indigenous brothers and sisters, every American is the son or daughter of someone who came to this country from somewhere else.

Right now, the story we tell about America starts here on the East Coast — New York, Jamestown, Boston, Philadelphia. We remember the first Thanksgiving, the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War.  That story is not wrong. It’s just not complete.  And because it’s not complete, it gives the distorted impression that America was founded as a project only of Western Europeans. This misreading of history has obvious implications for our current debates.

America’s founders dreamed of a nation where people from every race, religion and ethnic background could live in equality — as brothers and sisters, children of the same God.

But it is also true that at various points in American history, our faith and commitment to this original vision has been shaken. There is a streak of nativism and racial discrimination that has always run through our history. It seems to flare up especially in times when people are fearful and uncertain about the future.

Mercy and the vision of America and the way forward

Many of our neighbors today are worried and anxious. They are worried about what the global economy means for their jobs, their wages; they are worried about the threat of terrorism. I think our neighbors’ fears are real [to them] and I think we need to take them seriously.

Since 2008, we have deported more than 2 million undocumented persons.

I’m worried that in our fear, we are closing in on ourselves, we are hardening our hearts. There is a cruelty in our policies and our public rhetoric.  I am worried that we are losing our sense of mercy, our ability to show forgiveness and kindness, to empathize and feel the pain of others.

There is a broad consensus that our nation has the obligation to secure its borders and determine who enters the country and how long they stay.  There is also broad agreement that we need to update our immigration system to enable us to welcome newcomers who have the character and skills our country needs to grow.

The good news is that the American people are far more compassionate and understanding than some of the loudest voices we are hearing today.  People do not cease to be our brothers and sisters just because they have an irregular immigration status.

We need to resist the temptations to nativism and discrimination.  We need to insist on public discourse and public policy that reflects our common humanity and promotes the dignity of the human person.

I think we have a duty to be the keepers of the American vision committed to human dignity, freedom and the flourishing of diverse peoples, races and beliefs.  We are to grow in empathy and mercy, by the grace of God.   We need to be working for a new America in which no one is a stranger. An America in which we encounter the “other” — as a brother, as a sister.

To read Archbishop Gomez’s full remarks please visit, http://angelusnews.com/articles/immigration-national-identity-and-catholic-conscience

CRS Student Ambassadors: Inspired to be Light in the World

young brunette woman in a blue floral dress

Rita Marino, CRS Student Ambassador at Villanova University

In life, it is so easy to turn a blind eye to the plight of others. Perhaps our lives appear too hectic or the issues too large. However, despite distance, race or circumstance, we are all brothers and sisters—part of God’s family. Our everyday decisions impact both the people and the environment around the globe.

It is when we disconnect from the consequences of our actions that the world suffers. It is when we fail to curb our material consumption, ignore the cries of those in pain, and worry only about ourselves, that we fall out of harmony with each other.

July 24, 2016, marked the beginning of a special multiday event where almost 120 students and staff, representing 47 colleges across the nation, united in Baltimore for the Catholic Relief Services Student Ambassador Leaders Together, or SALT, summit.

During the conference, ambassadors and advisors learned more about CRS’ primary concerns for the year—climate change, human trafficking, and migration, while indulging in fair trade coffee, and receiving training to strengthen collegiate chapters.

As a participant in the conference, I cannot shake the feeling of global interconnectedness, after hearing presentations about displaced Syrian families seeking resettlement, farms in Indonesia yielding miniature-sized corn because of climate change, and battered young women being coerced into sex trafficking. I realize just how connected we are as human beings.

In the words of CRS President and CEO Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo, who spoke at the summit, “You are too young to be hopeless.” The world’s problems may appear too big of a hurdle, but it is our responsibility as Catholics—and as human beings—to approach both people and the land with love and respect.

One of the most important aspects of our hope is that although it may exist abstractly in our hearts, it is expressed tangibly in our actions. Ambassadors and staff possess the knowledge and conviction to not only hope for a better world, but also to actualize it. This was demonstrated on the last day of the summit when students met with U.S. senators and representatives to advocate for policies that support solidarity.

On my campus at Villanova University, we are living solidarity through efforts to combat climate change and help Syrian refugees. During the 2015-2016 school year, Villanova Ambassadors collected hundreds of advocacy letters for climate change during the Theology Colloquium, cosponsored the 3rd annual interfaith prayer vigil to benefit Syrian refugees, and organized a “5k run for refugees.” We look forward to seeing how we will incorporate the three issues of climate change, human trafficking, and migration into our work in this coming school year.

Through education, courage and our voices, positive change arises. May the year 2016-2017 school year be filled with strength and love.

Rita Marino is a CRS Student Ambassador at Villanova University. She is a fall 2016 intern for the CRS Northeast and Mid-Atlantic office and a blogger for the CRS University blog.

The Catholic Relief Services SALT Summit brought together college and university student leaders and advisors July 24–26 to learn how to organize and engage their campuses to work for global solidarity through CRS. Watch this video from Catholic News Service to learn more about their efforts:

Through the CRS Student Ambassador program, CRS trains chapters of student leaders to mobilize their peers and bring to life the mission of global solidarity on campus.

Working Together Towards Immigrant Integration 

 Where migrants and refugees are concerned, the Church and her various agencies ought to avoid offering charitable services alone; they are also called to promote real integration in a society where all are active members and responsible for one another’s welfare…

– Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. (2013)

The Catholic Church and its brethren are, in part, defined by a mandate to welcome the stranger. From schools to health care to voter registration drives to food assistance, and especially to parish life, the church has developed pathways for aiding the newest members of our communities. The Church and its entities cherish this role and continue to fine-tune its efforts at reaching the newest, and often the most vulnerable, among us.

As part of the church’s efforts, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) has a 28-year history of supporting local Catholic institutions that aid immigrants. CLINIC sees the migration experience and subsequent immigration statuses (documented or otherwise) as early steps in the integration process. We know from focus groups that the journey and the engagement with U.S. immigration law and officials shape newcomers’ views of themselves in relationship to their new homeland.

We at CLINIC are doing a lot, and our network is doing a lot. But I believe we can do more to promote integration. As places of ministry and service providers, we must actively seek out what our immigrant neighbors would find most beneficial. It is especially important to involve newcomers in the decisions we make for our community and work together to create the integrated community we all desire.

This is no small task. For those of us working at charitable organizations, it is easier for us to decide ourselves what to offer our clients or members of our community, how best to help them, and what might make a difference in their lives. That’s our job, and it’s an important one. Imagine, though, what would be possible working with our clients and community members on integration. What could we do if we invited them into our office spaces and decision-making processes to decide, together, what the community collectively needs? What if we shared the power of the decision-making with our neighbors and worked together to make our community more welcoming for all?

There are many other ways to encourage immigrant integration within your community. Many of them involve reaching out to others and listening to and understanding their “joys and hopes, sorrows and anxieties.” This is part of the “culture of encounter” that Pope Francis has called us to promote.

Here are a few ideas to get started:

  1. Challenge unwelcoming remarks about immigrants in your community, at work and at home. Use facts and resources from nonpartisan sources, such as the Pew Research Center and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  2. Invite a newcomer to your home for a meal and learn a few words in his or her native language.
  3. Volunteer to mentor English language learners or help with citizenship test preparation.
  4. Volunteer at a local refugee resettlement agency in your community to help newly arrived refugees learn English, find a job, and adjust to their new home.
  5. Ensure that members of the newcomer community are represented in leadership positions or decision-making entities at your parish, organization, or community group.
  6. Ask your local library, museum, and community center to include perspectives of immigrants in planned public events, classes that are offered, and resources that are purchased.
  7. Volunteer at a nearby Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program that serves lower-income immigrant (and nonimmigrant) families in your community.
  8. Consider organizing a potluck/town hall event where residents can break bread together.
  9. Write or call your Congressional representatives to encourage action on immigration reform.
  10. Work with your local community leaders/elected officials to pass a Welcoming Resolution in your community.

Immigrant integration is a beautiful, complex, on-going process that challenges us to reach outside of the known and familiar and purposefully embrace people who are on a migratory journey. By making integration a priority for our agencies and our service programs, we can encourage the development of communities that are welcoming places for all of us.

Leya Speasmaker, CLINIC

Leya Speasmaker, CLINIC

Leya Speasmaker serves as the Integration Program Manager at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. In this role, she develops CLINIC’s resources and provides technical support on integration. She works from Austin, Texas.

Versions of this article were first published by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network on its website.  Please contact Leya Speasmaker, CLINIC’s Immigrant Integration Manager, atlspeasmaker@cliniclegal.orgfor more information on how to promote and encourage immigrant integration within your community.


Going Deeper

Learn more about creating a Culture of Encounter at WeAreSaltandLight.org and promoting immigrant integration initiatives at CLINIClegal.org.

Migration is not the problem

Migration has been a constant through human history. In recent years, there is a growing perception among policy makers and states that migration, especially of low skill migrants, is a problem, especially as  migration from Central America and Mexico to the United States continues in spite of efforts to “seal the border” both in the United States and Mexico.

Additionally, the Obama Administration’s deportations have reached record numbers. The Mexican and Central American governments, despite some efforts, have been unable to absorb a large number of deportees and to help them reintegrate in society.

But sealing borders and increasing deportation ignores the actual problems at the root of the migration crisis, such as poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and violence.

In the Northern region of the Americas there are important migration issues that deserve attention and analysis: (1) Migrants from the “Northern Triangle” (Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador) who continue venturing through the Migration Corridor in Mexico are exposed to multiple dangers ranging from violence from criminal gangs to abuses from immigration authorities. (2) Along the corridor there has been a growing number of humanitarian responses, many of them faith based, which advocate for and assist migrants along their journey.  (3) The deployment of military forces and migration officers along the U.S. border with Mexico and the increasing violence and activity of criminal gangs on Mexican territory make irregular crossings to the U.S. a daunting task.  (4) Migrants who have made it to the U.S. usually face challenges as they try both to acculturate and live under the radar as undocumented migrants.  None of these scenarios is exhaustive.

These serious issues are a call to accompany, serve, and advocate on behalf of these populations that are at the margins of our society.

Migration is a worldwide priority of the Society of Jesus and a focus area for advocacy at the Jesuit Conference in the United States. The Jesuit Conference has been sponsoring a five-week Migration Immersion Experience for Jesuits in formation.  The journey begins in Los Angeles with a three-day seminar to understand certain dynamics of migration and the type of experience we will have.  We then visit El Progreso, Honduras, to understand the context of origin.  We continue moving through the migrant corridor in Mexico visiting shelters that provide services to and advocate for migrants in transit.  We conclude by visiting the California Valley to understand destination contexts.

During this experience, we visit shelters, human rights organizations, parishes, and particular Jesuit projects that assist migrants. The goal is to offer Jesuits in formation a firsthand experience of the reality of migration, as well as to inform them of the political and pastoral challenges involved in it.

In 2015, I led the migration immersion experience for six Jesuit scholastics (four Americans and two Mexicans), with the sponsorship of the Social and International Ministries of the Jesuit Conference in the United States and the Mexican Province of the Jesuits.

We saw firsthand the phenomenon of migration through visits to the “Northern Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras), the Mexican Migration Corridor, and some immigrant communities in the U.S. in order to understand migration from various viewpoints. It was also an opportunity to reflect on opportunities for ministry among migrants.

The experience was transformative for all of us. It allowed for a deep encounter with Christ at the margins; an experience where dynamics of our founder Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises became alive for all of us; and an experience of solidarity for the international Society of Jesus as we discover ourselves as “Jesuits being called together and being on mission.”

Alejandro Olayo-Mendez, SJ is pursuing a DPhil in International Development at the Oxford Department of International Development (ODID). His research proposal is titled ‘Migration and Humanitarian Aid along The Mexican Migration Corridor.’


Go Deeper!

At WeAreSaltAndLight.org, read more stories about faith communities encountering migrants:

Love Must Win Out

Bethany Welch

Bethany J. Welch, Ph.D.

For nearly a year now, I have had the distinct privilege of accompanying two asylum seeking families from the Horn of Africa. When I look back at the appeal letter that I wrote to garner support for their arrival in South Philadelphia, I am both humbled by what has transpired since and embarrassed by how naive I was when the journey began.

I believe in the power of advocacy. I work on systems change. I go to protests to shine a light on injustice and I have made a career of helping urban neighborhoods build capacity to fight the effects of poverty.

What I have not done is let love prevail. Until this year. Which is why, now, I believe firmly that love sits at the intersection of mercy and justice. Not the love of paper valentines and heart shaped boxes of candy, but a radical, transforming love manifest to us in the Incarnation.

My part of the story begins in late August of 2015 when, in response to the call of Pope Francis to give shelter to migrants and refugees, St. Thomas Aquinas parish and the adjacent social justice center, which I direct, began to consider providing material support for specific families. This would be above and beyond the work that we already do as a community of immigrants and refugees around education, advocacy, leadership development, legal outreach, streetscape revitalization, and more.

As I wrote to donors then, the story of the two families that we did receive is a universal tale of struggle to find safety and a chance at a better life. They escaped torture and assault. They made their way from one country in Africa to the next, up on through South America and eventually to the Texas border. When these two single mothers and their young children landed in a detention facility in Pennsylvania instead of the wide open streets of a democratic America, it was compassionate pro-bono legal counsel who contacted me to discuss the prospect of finding a welcoming community to support them. It turns out that, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would not allow them individual freedoms while awaiting an asylum hearing, they could be “signed for” by a U.S. citizen with a valid address and be released to his or her care.

Fighting for justice, motivated by righteous anger, does not sustain you when the system is this broken. The flame burns you up and out. I have seen this happen to dear colleagues and I’ve suffered from it myself. The difference this time was that I took on the system in the context of a loving community of believers who proclaimed hope in the face of despair and I did so without a political agenda. There is a valiant and important movement to close the detention center where these families were held, but this round, that wasn’t where my efforts were focused.

Instead, I was asked to enter into the suffering of strangers by staying present with them, every day, rain or shine, for fun errands like shopping for Christmas dresses and in the profoundly raw moments of listening to a proud, beautiful 25 year old woman sob with the indignity of having to explain why she needed to find a long skirt that would cover the lacerations caused by the ICE issued ankle monitor bracelet, a condition of her release from the detention facility.

In 1977, a few years before he was murdered in the act of celebrating Mass, Blessed Oscar Romero said, “Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world. Let us not tire of preaching love. Though we see that waves of violence succeed in drowning the fire of Christian love, love must win out; it is the only thing that can.” This kind of love is what these two women and their children have demonstrated to me during our time together.

Love says goodbye to your parents and siblings in the hope that you can make more of a difference in their lives by leaving than by staying.

Love is months on the road, at the hands of smugglers, in order to extract your four year old from what will be a life of famine or military conscription by a corrupt government.

Love is not giving up on humanity when you ask for asylum from the nation held up as a model of a free and fair society and instead, authorities place you in a prison.

Love maintains a persistent, echoing cry for medical care when that four year old son is plagued by gastrointestinal viruses that rip through the close quarters of the detention facility in the same way cholera and dysentery take hold in a refugee camp in a developing country.

Love hopes all things, even when your court date for a preliminary hearing is postponed yet again.

For one of these families, love did win out. The first pair were granted asylum in late May, which situated them to receive refugee style benefits and we were able to match them with an affluent suburban parish to accompany them for the next year of life in America. For the second, the finish line keeps getting moved, even as they become more and more invested in the life of our parish and take on a larger part of my heart. While I continue to see my calling as one of fighting injustice through advocacy and innovative community building projects, I have learned that the work must be rooted in love, for this is the only force that will overcome the world.

Bethany J. Welch, Ph.D. is the founder of the Aquinas Center in Philadelphia, PA and recipient of the 2014 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award granted by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Nominations for the 2016 awards are being accepted through July 31, 2016.

Praying that the Supreme Court Keeps Families Together

20160418_114652On April 20, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of United States v. Texas.  I stood with thousands of people on the steps of the Court to bear witness on this historic occasion. Inside were colleagues from the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, some of whom camped outside the night before to be among the few granted admission to the courtroom. Also inside were Cardinal McCarrick, a venerable champion of human rights and pastor to people on the margins throughout the world, and six-year-old Sophie Cruz, an indomitable girl who hand-delivered a note about her undocumented parents to Pope Francis during his visit to the United States last September.

People waiting outside the Supreme Court came from all over the country. Many rode buses for several hours, if not longer, so that those who will make this important decision could see the faces of some of the millions of lives at stake. Among the people present, I could see the beautiful diversity of America. People from all faiths and ethnicities united in prayer, chants, and song.

I went to the Supreme Court with members of St. Camillus, a multicultural Catholic parish community in Silver Spring, Maryland. The parish boasts membership of individuals from more than 100 countries speaking dozens of languages. I went as an act of solidarity and faith. I live in a community of immigrants and am descended from Irish immigrants. Census records show that when my family arrived in the late 1800s, girls in my family immigrated alone at the ages of 15 and 16, and the men worked as day laborers. These are the same situations in my community today.

20160418_115428A couple of years ago, my parish priest made a statement about how he ministers to our immigrant community, and that statement has stuck with me over the years. He said that often when he baptizes a baby in our parish — on that joyous day when a child is welcomed into our Church and receives his/her precious first sacrament —he says a silent prayer that the family not be separated.

It is precisely those parents who would benefit from Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), one of the programs that the Supreme Court is considering.

This month, the Supreme Court will issue its decision in the case — a decision that will affect the lives of millions of people in the United States. At issue is the validity of the Obama administration’s executive action and the corresponding guidelines, which would grant deferred action, a form of prosecutorial discretion, to some four million people who have lived in the country for many years and allow them to apply for work permits.

Because of the “substantial humanitarian benefits” that the new programs would offer, USCCB joined with many other faith-based groups in defending the deferred action. As they stated in their amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court, the programs would provide “important benefits to the most vulnerable in our society, and to those who serve them” and also ensure “that the public will continue to benefit from the substantial contributions of recent immigrants.”

We hope and pray that not only will the administration be allowed to implement the new immigration guidelines, but that this will also be but the first step on to a pathway to greater opportunities for all. We must continue to pray and advocate for a long-term solution.

As Pope Francis said in his address to Congress:

“Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”

maura headshot (1) MMMaura Moser is manager for mission & identity outreach at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.


Join with Catholics around the country to urge Justice for Immigrants. Read stories about how communities of faith are standing with their immigrant brothers and sisters: Students Support DREAMers and Immigration Team Fosters Participation and Respect for Human Dignity.

 

World Refugee Day: An Opportunity for Reflection and Action

In April 2016, Pope Francis joined Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos to stand in solidarity with refugees. In his remarks, he lamented their suffering and said:

God created mankind to be one family; when any of our brothers and sisters suffer, we are all affected. We all know from experience how easy it is for some to ignore other people’s suffering and even to exploit their vulnerability. But we also know that these crises can bring out the very best in us.

Monday, June 20, we celebrate World Refugee Day, which provides Catholics an opportunity to reflect on the conditions confronting the millions of people who, like those on Lesbos, have been forced from their homes under threat of persecution and possible death.

The most recent reports by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has estimated the number of forcibly displaced people to be at about fifty-nine million. In other words, about one in every 122 people living today is either internally displaced, a refugee, or seeking asylum. This is a staggeringly large number. Current political conditions around the world show few signs of improvement, with the likelihood that things will only worsen in the coming months.

Often our attention is drawn either to situations of mass displacement or migration related crises that occur closer to home. With respect to the former, the conflict in Syria has resulted in massive upheavals, with as many as nine million Syrians displaced from their homes, and over three million seeking safety in a neighboring country such as Lebanon or Turkey. Approximately one in four people living in Lebanon are refugees.

Closer to home, the increase in the number of asylum-seeking unaccompanied migrant children and migrant families who arrived along the southwest border of the United States in recent years precipitated a moment of crisis and a media frenzy by the summer of 2014. With an average of 6,800 children apprehended in each year from 2004 – 2011, the number jumped to over 13,000 children in Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 and over 24,000 in 2013. Over 50,000 were detained in FY 2014 and, although a decrease was evident the following year (28,387), the numbers again increased in the first quarter of FY 2016 (18,558). Trends are similar for migrant families apprehended over this same stretch of time.

In both situations, the Catholic bishops of the United States have called for expanded protections for the most vulnerable populations in these migrant flows. With respect to Syria, the bishops have called on the U.S. government to provide 100,000 annual resettlement slots for the most vulnerable refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria. With respect to Central America, they have stressed the importance of recognizing the families and unaccompanied migrant children fleeing their home countries as refugees, and the need to ensure that the international protections due to these populations is respected.

These are both important situations that are deserving of our continued attention. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of people migrating in both of these crises and others like them often obscures the individuality – the personhood – of individual migrants who are making a long and dangerous journey to what they hope will be a place of safety. For this reason, it is important that we take the opportunity to highlight the people who are affected.

People like Omar, who fled Syria under threat of torture and likely death, and who has since found a new home here in the United States where he is now thriving.

Or like Mariam, who experienced violence in her home country Sierra Leone and then spent years in a refugee camp in Nigeria before coming to the United States.

These kinds of stories help us to recognize the person behind the refugee crises that we hear about every day. They are not just part of a faceless mass of people, but individuals who deserve to have their dignity respected and the opportunity to live a life worth living.

As Pope Francis stated, these crises can, and should, bring out the best in all of us.

Todd ScribnerTodd Scribner is the Education Outreach Coordinator for Migration & Refugee Services at the USCCB. 


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Praying as a Community of Salt and Light: Incarnate Prayer on the Border

Bishops and priests celebrate Mass behind border fencePraying as community of salt and light means that we bring our reality to prayer and let prayer enlighten our reality. For us here in the Diocese of El Paso, we do this in a variety of ways but one of the most special prayer traditions we have developed is our annual Border Mass.

Every year in November, around 600 people on both sides of the border celebrate the Eucharist right smack on the US-Mexico border fence. Dioceses on both sides – Mexico and the United States – come together around the altar placed against the fence and remember that we are ONE PEOPLE OF GOD. We are two nations, one faith. And, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ: not detention, not deportations, not family separation, not death in the desert, not the hardened heart of our nations, not prejudice or discrimination, not abuse, not violence, drug trafficking, nor militarized or inhumane border enforcement.

Each year, the bishops of the diocese of Las Cruces, El Paso, and Juarez come together and take turn presiding and preaching. We bring our reality of immigration, the lives and needs of our immigrant brothers and sisters, to the Eucharistic table and pray. We pray for our migrant brothers and sisters who have died in the desert, for a deeper encounter with Christ, for a conversion of hearts and minds, for communion and solidarity. We can pray that we may become more welcoming and respectful of the human dignity of our migrant brothers and sisters. We pray for courage to continue advocating for comprehensive immigration reform.

Celebrating Mass at the border makes prayer incarnate in our daily lives. I understand that this form of prayer is a bit harder to reproduce where there is no physical international border, but it is not impossible if we use our imagination and creativity.

You can celebrate a border Mass in your diocese or parish in unity with the border Mass we celebrate on the border in November by celebrating at the same time we do ours, so we can all be united. Imagine if on that day we celebrate our border Mass here in El Paso, there would be several Masses going on in our nation at the same time!

You can also celebrate a Mass for immigrants and the immigration issue where the readings, preaching, intercessions, and call to action focus on migration. You can also simulate a border either outside or inside a church by building a border out of simple building materials (a few studs and wire, for example). You can divide the church aisle with your fence or you can build the fence in front (on the side or behind the altar or another area in your church) and place pictures of all the borders we build, physical or otherwise, such as prejudice, racism, fences, or a hardened heart.

Let us continue to pray that our border Masses be always turned into bridge Masses.

headshot of Marco RaposoMarco Raposo is Diocesan Director of the Peace and Justice Ministry in the Diocese of El Paso.


Go Deeper!

Be a community that builds bridges!  Get resources on praying together as and celebrating our diversity as one body in Christ.

Wage Theft: A Threat to the Worker and to Economic Development

Don Bosco's Gonzalo Cruz with Cardinal Dolan at Pope's Workshop

Don Bosco’s Gonzalo Cruz with Cardinal Dolan

Wage theft is not only an urban problem. Don Bosco Workers began as a parish program at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Westchester County in 2000. The program was in response to the growing social unrest in Port Chester over “workers on the corners” and the alarming levels of wage theft as a consequence of workers being uninformed and unaffiliated.

A Catholic Campaign for Human Development — the domestic anti-poverty program of the Catholic bishops of the United States — grantee beginning in 2006, we incorporated in 2008 including a worker-driven board of directors. Today, we represent more 200 paid members organized as a General Assembly of Workers who decide on how to strengthen the organization through skills training, leadership development, and education.

In September 2014, in collaboration with Communications Workers of America, Local 1103 in Port Chester, we launched a new campaign to address wage theft as a threat not only to the Westchester worker but to economic development throughout the county. No Pay No Way: Wage Theft Is Bad For Business educates the community on how responsible business owners suffer, when other businesses fail to follow labor law. Research shows responsible businesses are simply less competitive because their cost of doing business (paying their workers) is higher.

Just about one year into No Pay No Way, we collaborated with the Attorney General of New York in the prosecution of a local restaurant owner for wage, overtime, and safety violations for five female workers. The employer was sentenced to repayment of $47,000. The women are now thinking about investing their recovered wages in a worker-owned eco-cleaning business.

Last year, we were honored to construct the chair that Pope Francis used when he celebrated Mass at Madison Square Garden. We were called the Pope’s workers, and this continues to inspire our work for justice.

When workers are treated fairly according to the law, workers and responsible small business thrive, and there is greater economic development for all.

Gonzalo Cruz is the Director for Don Bosco Workers, Inc.

Go Deeper!

As Don Bosco Workers, Inc. works to protect worker rights, visit this page from WeAreSaltAndLight.org which contains resources on ethical practices for business leaders and institutions.”