Hope “pierces the heart” of a diocese new to organizing

yard-signs-header

The closing of the liturgical year and the Feast of Christ the King fell, this year, just after the U.S. presidential elections. Such timing prompts me to ask, what does God’s reign look like on earth? Among a divided world, how does one rule with peace and justice? Who would be better equipped to ensure the good of his people than one who knows suffering, family poverty, and being outcast?

prophetic-voting-hitting-the-streetsIn my diocese here in the Northeastern corner of Indiana, the sovereignty of Christ’s power has been made manifest in new ways throughout the last six months. A humble group– immigrants, returning citizens, foreign priests, low-income lay leaders, and average every-day parishioners – heard God’s call for justice and participation and took on new habits, words, and ways of seeing themselves and the world.

What does their love look like in public? Here are a few freeze frames:

  • Pastors dismayed by their parishioners’ disinterest in current events, slimmed attention spans, and even illiteracy issued calls from the pulpit about the need to consider the entirety of Church teaching when forming their consciences and challenged them to move beyond partisan comfort camps;
  • Ethnicities unfamiliar with working together shared stories of similar pain and worry with each other and partnered to knock on the doors of some of the most destitute neighborhoods in our diocese;
  • Undocumented immigrants, who cannot vote and barely survive in the shadows, held voter registration tables and conducted hundreds of calls to encourage those who can to vote their values, even when those values stood in stark contrast to their own;
  • Men and women working multiple part-time jobs made time, often despite family criticism, to be trained in Catholic social teaching, the parameters of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, and the kinds of decisions local and state governments make every day that determine the conditions of our lives.

Even the night when our country finally elected its president, Christ’s kingship still rang out across our land. Amid moments of frailty and fragility, as those same leaders from the voting effort were working the third shift at a manufacturing plant and their co-workers exchanged excitement for the time when “immigrants will go running like cock-roaches”; or, in the days that followed, as students hid in lockers as kids chanted brazen slogans in the hallways and parents were caught speechless as their children gaze into their eyes asking “what is going to happen to us?” – the Kingdom keeps yeasting.

stpatligandbrothersIn the quiet solitude of our hearts, we remember a reality that is unchanged – God is the King of the World. We let the truth radiate outward from there, and soon we cannot help but recommit to the work of overcoming hate, indifference, and ignorance through the hallmarks of mercy and the audacity of hope.

As people of faith, we must continue our efforts to keep immigrant families together, promote religious liberty, ensure the vulnerable have access to adequate health care and emergency assistance, work for racial justice, reform the criminal justice system, and care for all God’s creation.

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:28). And organize!

 

audrey-davisAudrey Davis is the Director for the Office of Social Justice for the Diocese of Fort Wayne- South Bend, Indiana.

This pocket of former manufacturing and agricultural glory is today home to the 17th highest incarceration rate on the globe, and where only 30% of jobs pay a family wage. Through the Prophetic Voting Campaign, the diocese partnered with IndyCAN to make its foray into community organizing, through which four low-income parishes joined together to hold sacred conversations with 1,787 low-income voters, register 80 new voters, and spread the message of human dignity and justice through 6 news stories.


Going Deeper

Visit the PovertyUSA.org map to find out where people of faith are organizing for and with those who are poor and vulnerable in your community. Join them!

 

Bishop Blaire of Stockton Issues Strong Statement on Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Pilgrims hold up images of Our Lady of Guadalupe during an annual pilgrimage in her honor (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

Pilgrims hold up images of Our Lady of Guadalupe during an annual pilgrimage in her honor (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

The journey of life is difficult at this time for Hispanics in the United States.  Many have friends and family members who are without papers; many are without papers themselves; children in school are being bullied; and young immigrants who signed up for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) are anxious that they might lose their opportunity to work and their protection from deportation; racism has raised its ugly head in many communities; and so many of our neighborhoods and homes are plagued with violence. Many who have jobs often find themselves having to work two or three jobs in order to make ends meet.

To all of you this day I remind you that OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE COMES TO MEET YOU TO LEAD YOU TO JESUS.  She says to each of you what she said to St. Juan Diego: “Do not be disturbed in your heart; do not be afraid.  Am I not with you, I who am your mother?” We need to hear these words of comfort and strength when there is so much hostility in the public conversation about immigration and immigrants.

I wish to say loudly and clearly to all of you that as your bishop I am with you.  You are the Church.  I will walk with you no matter how hard it gets. Please God, things will go better than our worst fears about what might happen.  Regardless, the Church is with you.  I am here to accompany you.  I also wish to announce to our immigrants, to our refugees, to our migrants, from wherever you come, that we will do everything we can to help you through our Catholic Charities and the community organizations of which we are a part. As Catholics we embrace our American traditions of welcome, of unity in diversity, and our care for all.

I also wish to say to our Muslim brothers and sisters, and to our Jewish elder brothers and sisters, and to all our inter-faith friends that the hate which destroys the unity and solidarity of the human family cannot be tolerated in any way. The way of God is the way of love.

As you know so many of our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East have been slaughtered by ISIS or lost their homes in war torn areas and have suffered as refugees from their ancient lands.  I ask you to join with our Holy Father Pope Francis, in doing whatever you can in any way to support the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Christian and Muslim refugees at this time, and to bring calm to their homelands.

The causes of war and cruelty cannot be ignored.  The injustices that give rise to radical evils must be alleviated. The forces of evil must be stopped. Ultimately, evil will only be overcome by good, by the hard work of good people working together to bring about peace.  And there will be no peace if there is no justice which respects the dignity and worth of every human being.  As long as the gods of money and power and unrestrained impulses found in the idols of greed and corruption rule on the face of the earth there will be no lasting peace.  Sad to say, an even greater threat to peace that looms over our heads would be the unrestrained advance in nuclear weapons which could destroy all creation.

I sincerely believe that unless God is accepted as sovereign Lord over the earth and over our lives, communities will continue to deteriorate, the earth will be devastated, and family coherence will be diminished.  Your devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe keeps us close to her as our Mother.  She leads us to Christ Who is the all just One; the all merciful One; the Hope for the world when all seems hopeless.

The world does not need any more walls.  It needs bridges of compassion and mutual understanding.  Yes, proper respect for borders or boundaries, but not barriers of hostility and division.  Let there be peace at our borders.

The world cannot continue to endure more violence.  It needs restraint, words of peace and perseverance in the hard efforts to create the just structures that are the foundation for peace.  In our community the answer to gang violence is good education and decent jobs.

The world must not tolerate racism.   It needs to honor the diversity of God’s human family by building a unity which embraces and respects all races on the face of the earth.  Unity in diversity!

bishop-blaire-5x7Today we venerate Our Lady of Guadalupe who comes to meet us as our mother.  Nuestra Señora will show us the way to peace and goodness and justice.  Mary is the mother of all peoples.  She will give us the courage not to be afraid.  She will lead us to Jesus, the Lord of peace and justice.   Viva Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe!  Viva Cristo Rey!

Stephen E. Blaire is bishop of Stockton, California.


 

Welcome Migrants and Refugees This Advent

“Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you.” Rom. 15:7.
Melissa Hastings, Policy Advisory, Migration and Refugee Services/USCCB

Melissa Hastings, Policy Advisory, Migration and Refugee Services/USCCB

Forced migration is a stark reality facing millions. With more displaced persons than ever before, the need for countries and communities to offer protection, understanding, and welcome is great. In the midst of this global crisis and as the year comes to an end, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on our country’s record of welcoming migrants and refugees.

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, the United States admitted nearly 85,000 refugees, including 12,000 Syrians. Through partnership with states and nongovernmental organizations, the United States has been able to provide crucial services to these resettled refugees in order to help them achieve self-sufficiency.  While the United States made some welcome progress during the past fiscal year in terms of creating and expanding programs to process Central American refugees, the current system has failed to address the needs of many individuals and families with valid protection concerns. This is evidenced by the fact that during FY 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehended over 59,000 unaccompanied children and more than 77,000 family members at the U.S./Mexico border. Many of these families and children were fleeing violence and lack of state protection in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Our treatment of these groups is an issue which has divided many in our country, including our leaders and lawmakers. Over the past year, we have witnessed the unfortunate toll fear can take on our country, causing some to view vulnerable migrants and refugees unfavorably. In light of this rhetoric, it is more important than ever that we as Catholics heed Pope Francis’s call: “Do not tire of courageously living the Gospel, which calls you to recognize and welcome the Lord Jesus among the smallest and most vulnerable.”

The holiday season can be a great opportunity to welcome migrants and refugees in your community and educate your parish on the plights faced by many of these individuals.

How can you help create a community of welcome?  You can consider hosting a solidarity event. These events are a way to make migrants and refugees in your community feel supported. They can also be a way to further educate your fellow parishioners and community members about these issues. In addition, you can host a multicultural potluck event as a fun way to promote cultural awareness and foster a community of welcome.

How can you help educate your fellow parishioners on this issue?  Start a dialogue with your community around Catholic social teaching on migration. Share a copy of and discuss the pastoral letter Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope. You can also share a link to the Justice for Immigrants (JFI) website with members of your community so they can learn more about JFI’s work to support refugees and immigrants.

Through these actions, we can engage with and show support for our migrant and refugee neighbors. Learn about other ways to welcome these individuals here.

Melissa Hastings is policy advisor for Migration and Refugee Services, USCCB.


Going Deeper
Get ready to celebrate National Migration Week on January 8-14, 2017.  This year’s theme is “Creating a Culture of Encounter.” During the week, you can reflect with others on the circumstances confronting refugees and immigrants and our Catholic call to encounter and welcome.

For more information on intercultural dialogue, visit USCCB’s Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church’s resources on intercultural competencies.

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.