This letter from Bishop Dennis Sullivan originally appeared in the Friday, May 16 edition of the Catholic Star Herald.
Last week, a deeply troubling Internet video of a woman filming her own abortion at a clinic in Cherry Hill spread quickly throughout the country. It has received wide publicity.
As the video originated here in the diocese, this is an especially important moment for us to reflect on our Catholic belief in the sanctity of every human life.
This belief has its roots in the very first chapter of Scripture, when we read in the Book of Genesis that God created man and woman in his own image and likeness. In other words, each and every human person bears the mark of God in a unique and beautiful way. Each and every person is a beloved creation of our Heavenly Father – from the initial moment of life onward.
Our Holy Father Pope Francis frequently talks about what he has called “the inestimable value of all human life.” Last summer, in a message to Catholics in Britain, he wrote: “Even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.”
Tragically, it is all too clear that we live in a world where reverence toward the most vulnerable is often absent. “Our faith stands in marked contrast” to this grim reality, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops proclaims in a document called Communities of Salt and Light. “At a time of rampant individualism, we stand for family and community. At a time of intense consumerism, we insist it is not what we have, but how we treat one another that counts. In an age that does not value permanence or hard work in relationships, we believe marriage is forever and children are a blessing, not a burden.”
As disciples, we imitate God’s love for each person when we put these values into action, building what Saint John Paul II called a “culture of life.” We build a culture of life when we support crisis pregnancy centers and adoption agencies. We build a culture of life when we welcome new life, no matter the circumstance. We build a culture of life when we advocate for public policies that lift up families struggling to make ends meet.
During this Easter season, our celebration of Christ’s Resurrection reminds us that we are a people of hope. Even in the midst of darkness and sin, the Light of Christ shines. May the power of God’s love over death inspire all people of good will to work toward a culture of life in our diocese and beyond.
My wife Genevieve and I have become fast friends with a married couple that lives nearby. A few weeks ago, we were out for drinks, and they told us exciting news: they’re expecting their first child.
It was early on in the pregnancy, and Gen and I were among the first people to find out. (After their parents; before some siblings.) I’ve never been in the loop so close to the beginning of a pregnancy, and the updates we hear each time we get together are literally awesome.
The miracle of life starts off so tiny and so fast. The child is the size of a poppy seed, then, before you know it, a blueberry, then a grape, then a lime with arms and legs stretching. Our friends have talked about the wonder of this life emerging from nothing. It has blown me away.
This experience has me reflecting on miracles – extraordinary happenings that reveal God’s presence to us. Wendell Berry, a farmer and influential American author, argues that miracles are all around us, and we’d notice them if we just paid attention:
“[The miraculous] is our daily bread,” he writes in The Art of the Commonplace. “Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine – which was, after all, a very small miracle. We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes.”
We are so busy that we often miss the miracles of life all around us. But if we can stop for a moment and notice them, they can change the way we think and act. My friends’ joy and wonder have deepened my reverence for life.
Inspired anew by life in the womb, how can I respond? How we can Catholics respond together? To borrow a model from Catholic Relief Services, we can pray, learn, act and give.
This coming Wednesday, January 22, is the 41st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court Decision, which assured the legality of abortion nationwide. The Church in the United States has designated the 22nd as a “Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children.” Here in the diocese, Bishop Sullivan will celebrate a special Respect Life Mass on Wednesday at 12:05 pm at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Camden. You are invited to join us that day to pray for the end of abortion and for a greater respect for the miracle of life. If you can’t make it that day, I ask that you pause for a moment at 12:05, wherever you are, and offer a short prayer for all children and their families.
Issues surrounding the protection of human life and dignity are incredibly complex and interwoven. For instance, in Washington, DC, 41% of all pregnancies end in abortion. Also, Washington’s poverty rate higher than any state’s is. What factors lead to abortion? Why do some families welcome life with joy, and others reject it with trepidation? What methods of supporting families have effectively reduced abortion rates and poverty rates? There is so much learning to do so that our actions and advocacy are well informed. The USCCB’s website for Pro-Life Activities is a good place to start.
Wednesday’s day of prayer for the protection of unborn children is also a day of action. Thousands of disciples from all over the country, including from the Diocese of Camden, will participate in the March for Life in Washington. The marchers will fill the streets and draw the attention of our elected leaders and news outlets, raising their voices in support of the voiceless. Dozens of buses will head to the March from the diocese. Click here if you’d like to sign up last-minute for a bus.
Also, many parishes in the diocese have Life & Justice coordinators and committees. If your parish doesn’t have one, start it. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like some assistance in growing a Life & Justice ministry.
There are so many good ways to share your treasure with respect life efforts and organizations. I’ve seen one parish with a playpen set up in the back of the sanctuary as a baby supply drop-off point. There are great agencies out there worthy of financial support, like Good Counsel Homes, which welcomes and cares for homeless expectant mothers and their children here in South Jersey. It’s important for Catholics to support pro-life organizations in concrete ways.
Together, uniting our prayer, education, and action, there is so much we can do to lift up and protect the miracle of life in our communities. How might God be calling you to respond?
It has been an eye-opening, gut-wrenching privilege to post the five-part Immigration Stories series here over the past three weeks. These stories of struggle, perseverance, and faith have occupied my mind and heart as we have prepared for tonight’s Mass in Support of Immigrant Families and this weekend’s Justice for Immigrants Sunday. Here are five things I’ve learned or been reminded of by compiling these witnesses.
1) Life here without a social security number is so difficult. Without one, there’s no driver’s license, no school field trips, no college scholarships, no in-state tuition, no protection from dishonest employers. I took all of these things for granted growing up.
2) For hundreds of years, people have been coming to the USA for economic opportunity. From Fr. Ken Hallahan’s family escaping the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s to Fr. Rene Canales traveling across three borders to come to the USA in the 1990s, people have been coming to America to search for a better life for their families. These people have not necessarily wanted to leave their homelands behind, but they felt it was their best opportunity to make things better for those they loved. I’ve gained a new appreciation for the migration of my ancestors, from Eastern Europe, Ireland, Sweden. I also learned that my ancestors wouldn’t be allowed in to the US legally today because of our strict quotas. Click here to see if your ancestors would make it in today.
3) Family separation is one of the most pressing issues we face. An issue that must weigh heavily on our hearts as Catholics is that today’s immigration system drives families apart. As Pope John Paul II said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the world in which we live.” The USCCB is advocating for immigration reform that puts family unity and a path to citizenship at the top of the list.
4) Young adults brought here as children have the cards stacked against them in their pursuit of an American Dream. At tonight’s Mass in Support of Immigrant Families, we’ll hear the testimony of a young man named Juan, who was brought to the United States from Mexico when he was five or six. Twenty-one today, he hopes to become a nurse, and to attend NYU — his dream school. But he is struggling to reach his goal, because he is not eligible for financial aid, and it would cost about $80,000 to earn a bachelor’s at Rutgers. He’s currently studying at Camden County College and hoping for immigration reform, so he can earn scholarships and have access to financial aid. He’s doing all he can, but he has to work so much harder than I had to in pursuit of my own dreams.
5) Hope for change is with others in mind. Over and over, I learned that people were sharing their stories in the hopes that others will not have to experience the hardships they have faced. I read of an others-centeredness that inspires me to care more deeply about immigration reform even though it does not directly affect me or my family.
Hoping to see you tonight at the Mass in Support of Immigrant Families (7:30 pm, Divine Mercy Parish, Vineland) and to receive your signed postcards to lawmakers next week!
Last night, the Diocese of Camden’s Catholic Charities held its 10th annual Justice for All Dinner, a gathering that benefits the dozens of services Catholic Charities provides to those in greatest need.
Here are five takeaways from the evening:
1) South Jersey’s Catholic Community supports the essential work of Catholic Charities. Despite a persistently sluggish economy, over 400 folks came to the dinner, including a particular Super Bowl MVP, and over $100,000 was raised.
2) “There are seven great Catholic Social Teaching principles. If you don’t know them, learn them.” Bishop Sullivan pulled no punches in a short reflection about Catholic Social Teaching. So here is some similar directness: If you want a basic rundown of the CST principles, click here. If you want some great quotes from popes and bishops about CST, broken down by topic, click here. If you’re interested in a treasure trove of online resources exploring CST, click here. If you’d like an attractive image to print and hang on your fridge as a reminder of the principles, try this one:
3) Every person is a neighbor. The title of Bishop Emeritus Joseph Galante’s pastoral letter on immigration, it was also the name of the video presentation show last night honoring Bishop Galante’s legacy of caring for those who are most in need. He was a shepherd who stood with the poor. Read his letter on immigration by clicking here.
4) In many places in the world, the war on religion is not a metaphorical war. Keynote speaker John Allen, Vatican correspondent for CNN and the National Catholic Reporter, said that one of the most pressing challenges facing the church today is the persecution of Christians in many parts of the world. This persecution has led to the deaths of about 100,000 Christians a year for the past 10 years because of their fidelity to the faith. Read more from John Allen about this under-reported scourge here.
5) “Hope is sweaty.” Fr. Joe Messina led a closing prayer punctuated with the refrain “Hope is sweaty,” which he borrowed from Fr. Jeff Putthoff, SJ. The work of service and justice — work rooted in hope — is roll-up-your-sleeves stuff. Benefit dinners are necessary and fun celebrations, but the sweaty work continues today and everyday.
“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.
Bishop Sullivan’s birthday is on St. Patrick’s Day — not bad for an Irish-American bishop! We threw him a little céilí last week at the Pastoral Center before he headed up to NYC to celebrate Mass kicking off the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
An Irish folk musician came to the party, and before long Bishop Sullivan was up at the front of the room, leading the 40 or 50 of us in “Wild Mountain Thyme.” I was a few seconds late with the camera and shot it vertically instead of horizontally (which explains the black bars on either side of the video), but Bishop’s strong voice comes through loud and clear. It was a great moment.
This post misses St. Paddy’s by a few days, but it’s good to be Irish all year round. And I’ll hope it serves as a blessing on the Notre Dame Fightin’ Irish basketball teams, set to take the court in the NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments this weekend. (The men’s team, at least, needs all the grace it can get if we hope to avoid a first-round loss.)