“Stories,” said Madeleine L’Engle, beloved author of A Wrinkle in Time, “make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”
In February, I went to a meeting with about 50 priests, sisters and laypeople from all over the diocese who work with immigrant communities in their parishes.
I sat there and listened to story after heart-wrenching story.
I heard stories about parishioners who had come to South Jersey from all over the world – Southeast Asia, the Middle East, a dozen Latin American countries – seeking a better life for their families. I heard about families being torn apart through deportation, with fathers being taken from their wives and children. I heard about unscrupulous immigration attorneys demanding tens of thousands of dollars from clients and then disappearing. I heard about young adults unable to help with their parish youth group because they are afraid that if they get finger-printed – a usually simple precondition for any work with children – authorities will learn that their parents brought them to the United States without documentation.
These stories ignited a sense of urgency in the room: we realized that across the diocese, we are watching the God-given dignity of our sisters and brothers undermined by an unjust immigration system. We need the stories of struggling families to turn us into a church that is more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.
Now is the time to do something. Our elected leaders in Washington have taken up immigration reform, and, as a Church, we need to make our voices heard.
Following the lead of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has been a passionate advocate for immigration reform for years, the Diocese of Camden is excited to announce a series of events meant to lift up immigrant families and act for immigration reform.
First, Bishop Sullivan will celebrate a bilingual Mass for Immigrant Families on Friday, May 3, at 7:30 pm at Divine Mercy Parish in Vineland (23 West Chestnut Ave., Vineland, NJ08360). All are invited to come and pray for immigrant families and fair immigration reform. Care for migrants is something very close to Bishop Sullivan’s heart – he is fluent in Spanish, conversational in Mandarin, and has spent much of his priesthood caring for immigrant communities in New York City.
Second, parishes in the diocese will observe “Justice for Immigrants Sunday” on May 4 and 5. Prayers for immigration reform will be offered during Mass, and you’ll be able to participate in a USCCB postcard campaign calling on our elected leaders to enact fair immigration reform. The Bishops are urging Congress to pass reform that:
- Provides a path to citizenship for undocumented persons in the country;
- Preserves family unity as a corner-stone of our national immigration system;
- Provides legal paths for low-skilled immigrant workers to come and work in the United States;
- Restores due process protections to our immigration enforcement policies; and
- Addresses the root causes (push factors) of migration, such as persecution and economic disparity.
Third, inspired by the immigration stories shared at that meeting in February, I’ll be publishing a series of articles on this blog and in the Diocese of Camden’s Star Herald newspaper in the coming months – opportunities for some of our Catholic, immigrant sisters and brothers here in South Jersey to share their stories with us.
As we reflect on our call to stand with immigrants, Archbishop Charles Chaput from Philadelphia offers some empowering words. “We become what we do, for good or for evil,” Archbishop Chaput wrote recently. “If we act and speak like bigots, that’s what we become. If we act with justice, intelligence, common sense and mercy, then we become something quite different. We become the people and the nation God intended us to be.
“Our country’s chronic immigration crisis is a test of our humanity. Whether we pass that test is entirely up to us. That’s why the Catholic community needs to engage the issue of immigration reform as prudently and unselfishly as possible — not tomorrow or next week, but now. The future of our country depends on it.”
Frequently Asked Questions about the Catholic Church’s Position on Immigration
Compiled by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Justice for Immigrants Campaign
Why does the church care about immigration policies?
The Catholic Church has historically held a strong interest in immigration and how public policy affects immigrants seeking a new life in the United States. Based on Scriptural and Catholic social teachings, as well as her own experience as an immigrantChurch in the United States, the Catholic Church is compelled to raise her voice on behalf of those who are marginalized and whose God-given rights are not respected.
The Church believes that current immigration laws and policies have often led to the undermining of immigrants’ human dignity and have kept families apart. The existing immigration system has resulted in a growing number of persons in this country in an unauthorized capacity, living in the shadows as they toil in jobs that would otherwise go unfilled. Close family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents must wait years for a visa to be reunited. And, our nation’s border enforcement strategies have been ineffective and have led to the death of thousands of migrants.
The Church has a responsibility to shine the message of God on this issue and help to build bridges between all parties so that an immigration system can be created that is just for all and serves the common good, including the legitimate security concerns of our nation.
Does the Catholic Church support illegal immigration?
The Catholic Bishops do not condone unlawful entry or circumventions of our nation’s immigration laws. The bishops believe that reforms are necessary in order for our nation’s immigration system to respond to the realities of separated families and labor demands that compel people to immigrate to the United States, whether in an authorized or unauthorized fashion.
Our nation’s economy demands foreign labor, yet there are insufficient visas to meet this demand. Close family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents face interminable separations, sometimes of twenty years or longer, due to backlogs of available visas. U.S. immigration laws and policies need to be updated to reflect these realties.
Does the Catholic Church support “amnesty”?
The Catholic bishops are proposing an earned legalization for those in this country in an unauthorized status and who have built up equities and are otherwise admissible. “Amnesty,” as commonly understood, implies a pardon and a reward for those who did not obey immigration laws, creating inequities for those who wait for legal entry. The bishops’ proposal is not an “amnesty.”
The Bishops’ earned legalization proposal provides a window of opportunity for undocumented immigrants who are already living in our communities and contributing to our nation to come forward, pay a fine and application fee, go through rigorous criminal background checks and security screenings, demonstrate that they have paid taxes and are learning English, and obtain a visa that could lead to permanent residency, over time.